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The Fear Index [Hardcover]

Robert Harris
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (303 customer reviews)
Price: 18.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

29 Sep 2011

His name is carefully guarded from the general public but within the secretive inner circles of the ultra-rich Dr Alex Hoffmann is a legend - a visionary scientist whose computer software turns everything it touches into gold.

Together with his partner, an investment banker, Hoffmann has developed a revolutionary form of artificial intelligence that tracks human emotions, enabling it to predict movements in the financial markets with uncanny accuracy. His hedge fund, based in Geneva, makes billions.

But then in the early hours of the morning, while he lies asleep with his wife, a sinister intruder breaches the elaborate security of their lakeside house. So begins a waking nightmare of paranoia and violence as Hoffmann attempts, with increasing desperation, to discover who is trying to destroy him.

His quest forces him to confront the deepest questions of what it is to be human. By the time night falls over Geneva, the financial markets will be in turmoil and Hoffmann's world - and ours - transformed forever.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; First Edition, First Printing edition (29 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091936969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091936969
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (303 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 100,015 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Harris is the author Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium and The Ghost - all of which were worldwide bestsellers. 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.

Product Description


"As in Frankenstein, an over-reaching scientist finds himself desperately battling to destroy what he's created. Depicting all this with sardonic relish, Harris switches the high-tension techniques that give his thrillers their heart-pounding suspense into black comic mode... The Fear Index is both cutting edge and keenly conscious of its literary predecessors... a tour-de-force."--The Sunday Times

"Like all Harris' books, this one is readily enjoyable as a suspense story... But what makes Harris' thrillers so much more rewarding than those of his rivals is that they all... come out of his deep and expert interest in politics, broadly conceived--which is to say, in power, in how power is taken, held and lost; how some people are able to dominate others; how wealth and status, fear and greed, work... The Fear Index... is ultimately a study in the total lack of morality of those who manipulate the markets . . . in its own carefully conceived terms, The Fear Index is certainly another winner."--Evening Standard

"A compulsive page-turner"--Woman & Home

"Harris is a master of pace and entertainment, and The Fear Index is a thoroughly enjoyable book... Read the book. If I die tomorrow, blame the computer."--The Observer

"A fine dystopian parable, especially impressive for the fact that instead of giving up on what really goes on in most banks and hedge funds and making them a mere back drop for money-laundering and ancillary skulduggery, as many thriller-writers have done, his heart of darkness is the thing itself. The drama contains, as he notes in the acknowledgments, 'Gothic flights of fantasy'--the story reminiscent of everyone from Michael Crichton to Ian Fleming, Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock. Yet there is an uncomfortable core of reality there... Quite a few Financial Times readers will, I suspect, not only savour The Fear Index, but wince with recognition."--Financial Times

"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."--The Economist

"For many of us, share prices are strings of dry, indecipherable figures ticking across hi-tech screens. But when stock markets tank, how quickly we become infected with the moist primal of emotions: sick confusion, clammy dread, coldest fear. Expertly mining this deep unease, Robert Harris’ thriller presents a fictional nightmare that feels like a wake-up call... The novel has a sophistication that lifts beyond banker-bashing. Harris takes aim at a corrupted system from a moral and intellectual height that practically induces vertigo."--Sunday Telegraph

"Robert Harris’ new novel The Fear Index races along as a thriller of high finance set during a single day: that of the Flash Crash. I have to obey spoiler-alert protocols at this point, because it is very hard to summarise what Harris so grippingly achieves through this material without letting some cats (Schrödinger’s, perhaps?) out of the bag. So, if you prefer, look away now and read the book. You will do so very rapidly."--Independent

"The Fear Index could scarcely be more of the moment."--The Times

Book Description

The gripping new race-against-time financial thriller, from the award-winning master of the literary thriller genre: Robert Harris. Shortlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for best thriller of the year at the 2012 Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
57 of 62 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Michael Crichton than Robert Harris 27 Dec 2011
By Julia Flyte TOP 50 REVIEWER
Dr Alex Hoffman is an intensely private, brilliant physicist who has developed a series of algorithms capable of predicting, with uncanny accuracy, how stockmarkets will react to events. His investment company has made him - and others - a billionaire off the calculations of his artificially intelligent VIXAL-4 super-computer. He is happily (if somewhat improbably) married and has built his company with a partner who has the social skills that he lacks. One night Hoffman is awoken by the sound of an intruder in the house - the catalyst in a chain of events that over the next 24 hours will end some lives, cause those close to him to doubt his sanity and potentially may bring down the global economy.

It took a little while for this thriller to pull me in. The tension takes some time to build. I didn't particularly care for any of the characters, none of whom (with the possible exception of Hoffman) felt very believable. However it's deftly written and even as I started to work out parts of the plot and where the story might be going, other elements kept me guessing. It's a strange change of pace for Harris, reading more like a Michael Crichton novel than a Robert Harris one. It has the scientific edge that I associate with Crichton's books, it's highly topical and grounded in recent events. It's also very readable - I tore through it in a day. So where's the problem? It's more shallow than I expect Harris's writing to be. The plot doesn't have a massive twist, some some small kinks. I simply didn't care about any of the characters. I read it happily enough, but I don't think it will stay with me.
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95 of 105 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unreached potential, but still good! 11 Oct 2011
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!
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147 of 165 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I've waited a week before posting this .... 6 Oct 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
.... because I've rarely felt so ambivalent about a book after reading the final page. I've reviewed it in my mind scores of times since then, but I'm still not quite sure which way to jump. Let's begin with a bit of background.

Standard & Poor's 500 Index (the S&P 500) is second only to the Dow Jones as a mirror of events in the US stock Market. The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (known as VIX) is a measure of the volatility of the market in tradeable options over stocks in the S&P 500 companies. Because volatility in the options market is seen as an indicator of imminent volatility in the more general stock market, the VIX is nicknamed 'The Fear Index', high volatility being associated with high risk. In fact, high volatility can also precede a sharply rising market, but speculators are instinctive pessimists in the first instance. Modern hedge funds deal in options and other similar tradeable products rather than in actual stocks and bonds. They are aggressively managed, reacting rapidly to market movements in order to seek profits even in a falling market. That's all you need to know about the stock market in order to follow the plot of the book.

As in a number of Harris' books (I confess I have a couple yet to read), the author grafts a fictional narrative on to a body of historical fact - in this case, the workings of the stock markets and in particular the crash which began on the New York Exchange in the early afternoon of 6 May 2010 and reverberated around the world. The action takes place in Geneva, beginning on the evening of 5 May and covering, in broad terms, the next day-and-a-half.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Simon
Having read all but one of Robert Harris' novels over the years, by now I know what to expect. He has a very enjoyable writing style (intelligent yet accessible) which should in no way - as others have done - be compared with Dan Brown's. It is demonstrably superior!

As ever, the pace, setting and characterisation are superb. In The Fear Index, the story centres on a brilliant yet socially inept CERN mathematician who, after some kind of nervous breakdown, is befriended by a charming and very persuasive English banker. Between them they are able to set up a hedge fund which trades through a computer algorithm called VIXAL-4 - basically a search engine which feeds on real time and historical information and learns to spot patterns of fear in trading (surely somebody from Google would already have done this if it were currently possible?). Particularly scary and amusing are the cast of investors invited to the lakeside HQ of the hedge fund in Geneva on the single day that the action takes place. The grim depiction of the city is also quite brilliant - it certainly chimed with a feeling that I took away with me when I visited a few years ago

But the problem is, as always, quite simply the plot resolution. I have a theory that the beginning point of every Robert Harris novel is the author's fascination with a particular subject - be it Bletchley Park, post-Communist Russia, the Roman Empire, imagining what would have happened if the Nazis had triumphed in the Second World War or the seemingly amoral world of hedge fund management. He will then meticulously research that subject from every possible angle, hence his incredible talent for setting the scene and putting you in the heart of the action.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars As with all Robert Harris novels excellent writing. The plot however...
As with all Robert Harris novels excellent writing. The plot however was extremely predictable, a recycled 'standard' Sci-Fi theme. Easy read, but without the wow factor.
Published 9 days ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read.
Fast paced thriller with an interesting insight into the world of hedge funds. Lost the plot a bit at the end for me.
Published 15 days ago by Very Busy Mama
2.0 out of 5 stars Not good
Very disappointing. I bought following Dreyfus Affair novel and was sorely disappointed. Leaps of fancy, flights of faith (sic) a whole host of stupid conclusions that ruin any... Read more
Published 16 days ago by b
5.0 out of 5 stars A darn good thriller!
Excellent story line which is expected from Robert Harris. Detail is everything for which the author is famous. I would use an old fashioned phrase - a darn good thriller.
Published 18 days ago by Mr. D. Rydings
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
I always enjoy Robert Harris' books, and am looking forward to the next Cicero and Rome book.
Published 26 days ago by Margaret Wilson
4.0 out of 5 stars Complex and coherent chiller
Slightly different from Harris's usual output, this is at once both a sci-fi and historical ( and occasionally, hysterical) novel. Read more
Published 28 days ago by Robert Russell
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Published 28 days ago by A D Harflett
5.0 out of 5 stars Good product.
This has killed the weeds very well. Takes a few weeks so be patient!
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly gripping; impossible to set the book down!
Harris's attention to detail - both geographically and literally - makes this novel impossible to put down. His mastery of the literary genre is commendable. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Peregrine Park
3.0 out of 5 stars The only Robert Harris book that had an inconclusive ending ...
The only Robert Harris book that had an inconclusive ending (or am I just being thick?), and to some extent, I was ambivalent about the fate of the main characters.
Published 1 month ago by nigel brown
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