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The Fear Index Paperback – 24 May 2012

3.4 out of 5 stars 380 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow (24 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099553260
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099553267
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.7 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (380 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 12,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"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)

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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Format: 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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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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robert Harris' "The Fear Index" is very entertaining but mildly disappointing nevertheless.

"The Fear Index" is the story of a Frankenstein algorithm (signaled rather ham-fistedly by an epigraph from Mary Shelley), a "confined digital organism" which goes well beyond its original purpose of trading the financial markets based on its prediction of changes in the VIX or volatility index (which is in reality traded on the CBOE). The program begins to control events in the physical world and provoke extreme behavior in the central character, ex-CERN physicist and billionaire hedgehog, Alex Hoffman.

Much of the book is a mild satire on the world of hedge fund nerds ("a United Nations conference on Asperger's Syndrome.") and their "undernourished" women set in Geneva. It is all very amusing but this ground has already been tread by Sebastian Faulks in "A Week In December." There is mystery thrown in triggered by a home -a sixty million dollar home - invasion and various odd incidents investigated by Inspector Leclerc, who is not entirely without justification, labeled by one of the characters as "Inspector Clouseau." All this is written with Harris' customary skill but is a bit too over-the-top to match the convincing conspiratorial menace of "The Ghost."

Most of the chapter headings are taken form Darwin on the nature of fear, but this is a high potential theme that is not satisfactorily developed. Interesting questions about the evolution of post human intelligence are lightly touched on. Questions of the morality of money are skirted. But in the end, Harris satisfies himself with producing a highly filmable - enter Paul Greengrass -light entertainment. Great fun, but that's all.
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