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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Typically brilliant Robert Harris novel with a typically unsatisfying ending!
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...
Published on 5 Aug 2012 by Simon

versus
62 of 67 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Michael Crichton than Robert Harris
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)...
Published on 27 Dec 2011 by Julia Flyte


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Typically brilliant Robert Harris novel with a typically unsatisfying ending!, 5 Aug 2012
This review is from: The Fear Index (Paperback)
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. Few authors around today do this better and the fact that I share a similar fascination with these subjects does no harm! All of this works well up until the final page, when all of a sudden the actual story feels hollow and incomplete. He has taken us through this world and gripped our imagination with a fascinatingly plausible insight yet somehow failed to resolve the story at the end. It must be this one failing that is, above all, responsible for the volume of negative reviews. Having committed to a book, we crave a revelatory ending and it never quite comes in The Fear Index (in fact, the only time Robert Harris has truly delivered this was in the unquestionably five-star "The Ghost").

Despite this, I am going to give the book four stars. As I said before, if you have enjoyed Robert Harris' previous novels, you will know what to expect and you can be confident that this is every bit as good.
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62 of 67 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Michael Crichton than Robert Harris, 27 Dec 2011
By 
Julia Flyte - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Fear Index (Hardcover)
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars fear of Harris, 28 Nov 2012
This review is from: The Fear Index (Hardcover)
I was hugely disappointed with this novel. I have enjoyed Archangel and Enigma (still haven't read Fatherland) but this was irritating. It started off well with an intriguing situation (the lead character Alex Hoffman is mysteriously sent a present of a valuable tome)and then later he is attacked in his home. Why? Who is behind all of this? How did the intruder get past the wealthy hero's incredible security systems? The trouble is that as the book unfolds you feel as though you couldn't care less about the resolution because the 'hero' is one of the most boring characters I've ever read , or even heard about. It may be a change to have something, or someone, different to the usual John Grisham honest Joe up against the big guys but he may be brilliant yet he isn't someone you would not stand a hope in hell of identifying with. He is cold and unlikeable. The relationship with his wife seemed implausible, especially how they first met. It is well written, as always, but to me it started treading in Michael Crichton territory (who did this kind of thing better). I rushed through the end a bit and still am not really sure what went off. I hope that Paul Greengrass makes a decent film out of it (he is suposed to be directing one).
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96 of 106 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unreached potential, but still good!, 11 Oct 2011
This review is from: The Fear Index (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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150 of 168 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I've waited a week before posting this ...., 6 Oct 2011
By 
Stanwegian (Tyneside, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Fear Index (Hardcover)
.... 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.

Alex Hoffmann is a brilliant, though geeky, US-born mathematician, happily married to a British wife, Gabrielle, but socially inept and inclined to avoid contact with humanity except when absolutely necessary in the course of his work. He came to Geneva to work at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), birthplace of the world wide web and home to the Large Hadron Collider, but left to pursue his interest in algorithmic systems (artificial intelligence to you and I). He devises a system for dealing in options, extending the VIX approach by monitoring all web references to fear in its widest sense and using the system to identify likely consequent stock movements. Financed by Hugo Quarry, a former British banker and Oxford economics graduate with a zeal for riches (whom, incidentally, Gabrielle cannot stand) Hoffmann and Quarry set up a hedge fund, Hoffmann Investment Technologies. It trades very successfully, and after successive upgrades of the system the program is now self-learning, requires only occasional intervention and is moving from very successful to phenomenally successful. Hoffmann himself is not money-driven, and doesn't quite know what to do with his accumulated personal wealth, which by the time of the action is of the order of $1.2billion.

On the evening of 5 May, Alex is contemplating a valuable first edition of Darwin's 'The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals'. It has been delivered by courier; the bookseller's slip marks the section dealing with fear, but there is no indication of the donor's identity. In the small hours of the following morning, Hoffmann hears an intruder; he gets up to investigate, calls the police, sees the intruder but is knocked unconscious before the police arrive. How did the intruder successfully avoid the state-of-the-art security installation? He discovers that the book was ordered and paid for by himself, but he has no recollection of placing any such order. Has someone hacked into his personal security? Is he perhaps losing his mind? - certain features of the CAT-scan taken at hospital where he is treated for concussion suggest that this may be a possibility. As the day proceeds, the tension rises, eventually reaching a climax in the early hours of the following morning; it's impossible to say more without compromising the prospective reader's enjoyment.

So what's to be said on the plus side? Well, Harris is an accomplished writer; he uses words skilfully to create mood and increase tension, but his writing is always accessible. The book is an easy and enjoyable read, and in some sections is very hard to put down. I don't agree with some of the comments made by other reviewers; for example, Leclerc, the police inspector looking into the break-in and attack on Hoffmann is dismissed as 'a Clouseau clone' by Hugo Quarry - which is entirely in keeping with Quarry's character - but Leclerc is actually nothing like Clouseau. He may be approaching retirement and be a touch scruffy in the sartorial department, but he asks the right questions, and if he concludes that Alex is losing his mind, it is because the evidence available to him points firmly in that direction. If you are prepared to take the book at face value, you'll probably enjoy it very much, and on that basis I wouldn't wish to discourage you.

My problem is that 'Fear Index' is clearly intended as an allegory, and a multi-layered allegory at that - the choice of quotations used as chapter headings makes that very clear. I can't explain my misgivings in any detail without revealing pretty much the whole of the plot. Let me just say that the primary allegory is pretty obvious, but still unsettling, particularly after reading the last few pages. I can understand the logic of what I'll describe as the 'arranged events' in terms of the immediate consequences of those events, but I have great difficulty in unravelling the logic which made those consequences desirable in the first place - in fact, I'm left with the impression that attention was so strongly focussed on the cart that the author failed to notice the disappearance of the horse.

As ever, my view is my own and other views may be equally valid, but after a suitable period of meditation I conclude that the immediaste enjoyment of reading the book is outweighed by the retrospective sense of disappointment - so only three stars!
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Incredible book - in the worst possible sense, 29 May 2012
By 
Martin (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Fear Index (Hardcover)
Incredible book.
- Unbelievably bad plot
- Unbelievably boring/stereotypical characters
- Unbelievable that a decent author like Robert Harris can churn out such rubbish
- Unbelievable reviews on the book cover (in the sense hard to believe they read the book.)

Plot is terrible. Seems to have come about as a result of focus group deciding hot topics are computers and hedge funds so a book combining the two can't lose. But there is a problem, both are in fact remarkably boring and need a plot a lot cleverer than that lifted, as a very pale imitation, from Frankenstein. The story is full of holes, computers imbued with powers more fitting in a comic mag while mobile phones don't work and humans show less intelligence than a Spectrum.

The cast too feels like some sort of output from a focus group none has an ounce of credibility or human interest. Honestly does anyone who reads this book actually care what happens to the central character or feel anything for any of participants? It feels like some sort of joke, the computer comes alive while the characters are all dead as dodos.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good idea, poor development and delivery, 9 Mar 2013
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This review is from: The Fear Index (Kindle Edition)
In general, I find Robert Harris's books a pleasure to read. This is an author who keeps you on the edge of your seat when writing about well-known historical events - the rise of Caesar, the eruption of Pompeii. He manages to weave suspense into known events and to systematically build credible sympathetic characters. All of which to say, my expectations were high when reading this book.

Sadly it fails to deliver. The overall idea is good. Not original, but good. But in contrast to Harris's other novels the plot seems very linear and annoyingly predictable. There are, as other reviewers have mentioned, many loose ends and behavioural inconsistencies on the part of the unseen opposition to the main protagonist. [Spoiler alert...] One can speculate about the multiple avenues that an evolving (the multiple references to Darwin) artificial intelligence might pursue to explore the substance that its original algorithm was programmed to leverage for profit: fear. But even so, the strategies adopted are altogether too obtuse and complex for something that is evolving from a bundle of binary code. If... andif... then...

So we end up with this rather bizarre inversion in which the overall plot of the book is too linear, simple and predictable (mechanical even), while the behaviour of the AI character is anything but coherently framed. If Harris had only built a plot around linear behaviour disguised in a more complex plot, he might have had another winner here. But sadly not.

If you're interested in artificial intelligence, go elsewhere.

If you're interested in Robert Harris's excellent novels, go elsewhere.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I was hoping for, 9 Feb 2012
By 
Amazon Customer (Klaukkala, Finland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Fear Index (Hardcover)
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.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Rubbish, 17 Jun 2012
This review is from: The Fear Index (Paperback)
Lightweight sub Crichton effort. Tired old ID theft/schizophrenia plot. Characters who are boring and for whom there is no sympathy or interest. Total waste of time; Harris can do, and has done, so much better
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An interesting subject ruined by a rubbish plot., 2 April 2012
This review is from: The Fear Index (Hardcover)
When, whilst reading a book, you can see the writer's thought processes as he churns out clichéd mechanics, you do tend to think, "why am I bothering?"...or rather "why is the author bothering?" So he's talked to a few hedge funders and picked up on what and how they do it. Fictionalised it by sticking a pro forma plot around a few characters talking about hedge funds. Bleuch. That's it??

I'm not saying that what hedge funds get up to with all their "algorithms" and computers and off-shore accounts are not interesting. It's just that a crap fictional plot by Harris does the subject a great disservice. AI computers taking over the financial world and causing a crisis? J G Ballard would have done it so much better and with real heart and passion.
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