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The Fear Index [Paperback]

Robert Harris
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

May 24 2012
Meet Alex Hoffmann: among the secretive inner circle of the ultra-rich, he is something of a legend. Based in Geneva, he has developed a revolutionary system that has the power to manipulate financial markets. Generating billions of dollars, it is a system that thrives on panic - and feeds on fear. And then, in the early hours of one morning, while he lies asleep, a sinister intruder breaches the elaborate security of his lakeside home. So begins a waking nightmare of paranoia and violence as Hoffmann attempts - with increasing desperation - to discover who is trying to destroy him - before it's too late ...

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"The Fear Index could scarcely be more of the moment" The Times "Harris is a master of pace and entertainment, and The Fear Index is a thoroughly enjoyable book ... Read the book." Observer "The Fear Index is an escapist thriller to rank with the best of them, and as a guide to what hedge funds actually do, it is surprisingly clear and instructive." Economist "There are moments when this book feels so up to date it could have been written next week... spookily exciting." Express "I would recommend The Fear Index, the new novel by Robert Harris that delves into the world of modern finance. The writing is as elegant as ever" -- Lionel Barber Financial Times

About the Author

Robert Harris is one of Britain's most famous writers of thriller novels and gripping historical fiction. He is the author of eight bestselling historical and contemporary thrillers: Archangel, Enigma, Fatherland, The Fear Index, The Ghost, Imperium, Lustrum and Pompeii, all of which were worldwide bestsellers. Harris has been shortlisted for three notable literary awards: the Walter Scott prize for historical fiction, the Whitbread first novel award (now known as the Costa Book award) and the British Book Awards Popular Fiction Award. His most recent bestselling thriller, The Fear Index, was shortlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, for best thriller of the year, at the 2012 Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards. Robert Harris has worked with international film director Roman Polanski to create the Golden Globe winning film The Ghost Writer, starring Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor. Enigma was adapted into an award-winning film starring Kate Winslet and Tom Hollander. His work has been translated into thirty-three languages. He was born in Nottingham in 1957 and is a graduate of Cambridge University. He worked as a reporter on the BBC's Newsnight and Panorama programmes, before becoming Political Editor of the Observer in 1987, and then a columnist on the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph. In 2003 he was named Columnist of the Year in the British Press Awards. He lives near Hungerford in Berkshire with his wife and their four children.

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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fear index is fearfully bad June 27 2012
By jimmy
Jargon filled fiction describing hedge fund gone wild because of psychotic nerd makes for intensely dull reading unless you are attuned to awful acronyms, a short course in the mathematics of what makes hedge funds work and are entranced by psychotic protagonists.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.3 out of 5 stars  197 reviews
125 of 143 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I was hoping for Jan. 24 2012
By Heikki Hietala - Published on
I am a big, big fan of Robert Harris. I found his book Enigma when my interest in the code breaking of Bletchley Park in WW2 was at its peak; that mix of fact and fiction blew me away and it remains his best book in my mind. On a par with it there is Fatherland, the alternative history classic, and almost level, Pompeii. Archangel is also not to be missed.

So, when I started The Fear Index, I was positively titillated with anticipation - a new Harris is always good news.

Within 50 pages, my enthusiasm was dampened somewhat, and after 150 pages, I was downright disappointed. This tale of a brilliant physicist who leaves CERN to write the best algorithmic investment system ever seen was just not what I have always liked best in Harris.

In my mind, Harris shines when he tells the tale of the single man, cast in a role by chance and personal talent, conquering insurmountable odds. Tom Jericho in Enigma, Xavier March in Fatherland, and Fluke Kelso in Archangel have all been set in a situation where only their personal integrity and hard work will win the day.

Not so in The Fear Index. Harris writes well as always, but the picture he draws of Alex Hoffmann has none of the usual charm of a Harris hero. Hoffmann is arrogant, talented, and definitely the man for the job, but his almost autistic lack of interaction doesn't endear him to the reader. Alex's relationship with his artist wife Gabrielle is superficial and uninteresting, even if the culmination point of that relationship in the art gallery raises eyebrows in the best tradition of Harris' books.

Another thing that worried me much was that Harris ventures into Clancyist methods of adding technobabble to add excitement. I was especially disappointed with the small things that he's always done really well: risking that I will be called a muppet by some people, I'll say that CPUs do not hum - transformers do, and there are no files in a computer's registry. Such small items become more and more evident towards the end of the book.

And the crucial element of any book of this type, namely suspension of disbelief, just didn't go far enough. I will not disclose the plot, but at 2/3 of the book it fell flat for me and I read the rest merely to see what happens, not on the edge of the seat enjoying every moment of it.

I will repeat that he writes just as well as ever (with a few somewhat tired similes, a first for me in his books), and to some people, especially in the world of finance, this may be more interesting than to the average lay person, but my expectations were not met, and I will remain in wait for his next book to see if he goes back to creating a truly interesting character in a complex and dangerous situation.

-Heikki Hietala, author of Tulagi Hotel
64 of 78 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What?!? (BEWARE: spoilers ahead) Jan. 16 2012
By S. G. - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
There are spoilers in this review.

This is the third Harris book I've read. Fatherland and Archangel were really fun reads that had fresh and interesting story lines. I can't say the same for this one.

This book took longer than usual to read. Not because it is difficult or long, but because I'd keep putting it down and swearing not to pick it up again. But I did, and persevered until the end. I can sum up my disappointment in this book as happening in three phases.

Phase one: The first section of the book was irritating in the extreme. The author spends most of his time describing the obscenely rich house of the protagonist. For example, he doesn't just look at the clock to check the time, instead he glances at the Louis Quinze clock on the mantlepiece. And this after a near death experience. Yeah, so I get it- he's a billionaire. And over and over and over again. He's a billionaire. And he's hot. And the most brilliant man alive. And he's developing the ultimate self-developing (evolving) algorithm. And his wife is hot. And she makes hot art. But she's sad, too, because she can't have children (I guess this "factoid" was supposed to be enough to give the characters and their marriage depth).


Phase two: So, I left the book on the nightstand for two weeks and read other stuff. In a moment of weakness I took it and started reading again. As the perspective changed-- to the investigator-- the book was much less insufferable, and I realized the author was trying to make some point about wealth (heavy handed and uninteresting in my view). The book then began to move along quite nicely, with a bit of a mystery and quick pacing. Although the obtuseness of the main character did get on my nerves every so often I was fine with that as long as the action progressed. I started to guess who was tormenting the lead character with mystery books, hired killers/perverts, secret cameras/ et cetera not because I'm so damn smart, but because there was only development of the story in one direction. The protagonist had no enemies simply because he was so lackluster (in spite of being a hot, brilliant, billionaire). The only one interested in tormenting him HAD to be his brilliant evolving hedge fund algorithm.

Which leads to Phase Three: (more spoilers)

The super intelligent and free-ranging computer program. Yep, the algorithm evolved, alright. It took over his bank accounts, sent him rare books, built a super computer in a warehouse across town, spied on him through cameras it had installed all over his office and house. Yet... it still wasn't smart enough (evolved enough) to see him coming at his monster CPU with 5 cans of gas and a blow torch.

I just feel dumb even summarizing this plot line. It wasn't unique, and it wasn't even done amusingly. There are similar "evil awarenesses" who invade the internet and gather intelligence in (highly improbable) ways in episodes of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files. And those were done over a decade ago and much more convincingly.

Don't waste your time on this book.
38 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unreached potential, but still good! Oct. 11 2011
By Miss Chloe S. Batten - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
This is a very topical thriller based around the current economic depression and its beginnings. The plot throws a different twist on Artificial Intelligence getting out of hand and plays on the human fear of computers taking over, as well as the AI using THE FEAR INDEX to determine where to invest. The book revolves around the main character Dr Alex Hoffman, a physicist who sets up a hedge fund which, using his self-learning programme, earns him a vast fortune. Strange things start to happen and Alex realises he is not as fully in control of his life as he thought and begins to doubt himself and events. The writing is good, the descriptions and dialogue spot on.

Where the book let me down was in the somewhat stereotypical characters and lack of their development, the hedge fund investors are all self-involved geeks and the policeman predictable. The Darwin analogy, although interesting, seemed to fizzle out and not reach its full potential, much like the novel.

Don't get me wrong, this is a good book and I enjoyed reading it, but it could have been so much more!
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fear and finance- just like today's headlines Dec 31 2011
By Joseph Devita - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Harris is an interesting, creative author whose imagination brings forth unusual stories. In this instance he has combined a financial thriller with a psychological mystery and science fiction morality tale as we follow 24 hours in the life of a physicist turned hedge fund manager who starts the story receiving a first edition book and ends it in a modern day Dante's inferno, as we attempt to answer the question- is he insane, the victim of a malicious enemy or something else altogether?

The author is very good at descriptive narration, and he devises quirky yet appealing characters. The plot itself starts off very well, and until about three quarters through it you will find yourself engrossed and somewhat bewildered about where it is going, though the final section will probably disappoint some as it is too quick, and too "mundane" a resolution for what had promised to be a very unusual story.

If anything this book is too short, and can be read in one or two sittings, and I found myself wishing it had been longer and more offbeat in its climax. But I guess these are good things- when I read a bad book it cannot be short enough!

So as some others have written, this book probably could have been "better", but it is still an interesting and even engrossing story which contains the seeds of enough reality that it can be frightening too. Since I don't want to spoil it for others, I will leave it at that- and a four star recommendation.
35 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Exciting, Well-Written Techno-thriller! Feb. 7 2012
By Robert Stryzinski - Published on
I thought this was an very well-written page turner with a believable plot. It focuses on a hedge fund manager that uses an artificial intelligence application to gain an insurmountable competitive edge in the market, but then things quickly get out of control.

Robert Harris has some genuine expertise in this area because of his previous book "Enigma", which gave a very realistic account of how the British broke the Nazi code in World War II. That book included an accurate historical account on Alan Turing's work, and he was really the father of modern computer science and developer of the "turing test" for artificial intelligence.

Harris's familiarity with the subject matter comes through in this book. One of the biggest complaints that I usually have about books like this is that the dialog is corny or contrived, or the plot is unrealistic. That happens when authors don't really understand their subject matter or what people who work in a technical field are really like. Harris offers up realistic dialog and narrative that seems natural and believable, even if the characters are not necessarily deeply developed.

Overall, this is a fun and informative read. It's a good way to get some familiarity with artificial intelligence and the issues it will bring. Keep in mind that AI is NOT fiction ... this is really happening and is going to have a BIG impact in lots of areas of our lives, not just Wall Street but also jobs and employment.

If you're interested in this subject, a great (and very readable) NON-FICTION book is The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, which talks about how artificial intelligence, robotics, etc is going to affect the real world job market and economy within the next 10 years or so.
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