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The Fear Index Paperback – August 21, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307948113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307948113
  • ASIN: 0307948110
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (216 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,769 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Christopher Reich Reviews The Fear Index

Is there a genre of fiction that Robert Harris has not mastered? His first novel, Fatherland, set in a triumphant Germany’s post-World War II Berlin (yes, triumphant!) ranks as one of the finest “what if?” stories ever written. Pompeii sends us farther back in time, to the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius only days before the volcano was set to erupt. Ancient Rome at its pulpiest. Who knew aqueducts could be so sexy? The Ghost Writer (winner of the 2008 International Thriller Writers award for Best Novel) claims the shadowy world of contemporary North Atlantic politics as its subject. Classy Brit espionage best enjoyed with a gin and tonic in hand. All were international bestsellers. All were page-turners non-pareil. But best, all were frighteningly intelligent. Thrillers that made you think as you maddeningly bit your nails.

With The Fear Index, Mr. Harris has turned his gimlet eye on the secret world of billion dollar hedge funds, namely those that seek to earn profits by computer driven program trading. The result is a wholly unique entertainment: a strange, compelling, and utterly propulsive novel. I’m not sure who would enjoy it more: George Soros, Arthur C. Clarke or Edgar Allen Poe.

The story takes place over a tumultuous twenty-four hour period in the life of Dr. Alexander Hoffmann, computer scientist, mathematical genius, and, of late, hedge fund billionaire. It begins (as a fine thriller should) on a dark and stormy night when Hoffmann is awoken by an intruder inside his sixty million dollar villa on the shores of Lake Geneva. A confrontation occurs, Hoffmann is injured, and in his attempt to solve just how someone was able to gain entry into his well-guarded palace, Hoffmann comes face to face with the greatest danger he can imagine: himself. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say: his intellect. To reveal more would ruin the adventure...and adventure it is.

There is, however, a backstory. Hoffmann was not always a stock trader. He began his career as a computer scientist at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) where his work in artificial intelligence involved modeling sophisticated algorithms that programmed computers to teach themselves. It is this mastery of algorithms, and how they train computers to mimic human behavior, that he has turned to such profitable use at Hoffmann Investment Technologies. And it is this mastery that will come to haunt him.

What Harris does so admirably--in my mind, better than any other writing today--is intertwine nifty, page turning plots with important historical, political, or in this case, sociological questions. The late Michael Crichton did this kind of story well. In The Fear Index, Robert Harris does it fantastically.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* If there’s anything Harris can’t write, he hasn’t revealed it yet. He’s equally confident with alternate history (Fatherland, 1992), ancient history (Pompeii, 2003, and the Cicero trilogy), WWII thrillers (Enigma, 1995), and contemporary intrigue (The Ghost, 2007). Now he turns in another masterful performance with this story of an artificial-intelligence researcher whose breakthrough in hedge-fund speculation seems to have led to a plot to discredit him, not to mention driving him insane. But as Dr. Alex Hoffman tries, increasingly frantically, to find out who has it in for him, we slowly begin to realize that he has no conception of just how clever the plot against him really is. In less sure hands, the story might have come off seeming either wildly implausible or just plain silly, but Harris displays a magician’s talent for misdirection, focusing our attention on one thing while doing something else behind our backs. Full of sharply drawn characters and artfully revealed surprises—and a big dose of paranoia—the book is a first-class page-turner. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The multitalented Harris throws another bull’s-eye. His built-in audience stands to grow still larger this time, fueled by strong reviews, word of mouth, and extensive marketing support. --David Pitt --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Robert Harris is the author of Pompeii, Enigma, and Fatherland. He has been a television correspondent with the BBC and a newspaper columnist for the London Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. His novels have sold more than ten million copies and been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Berkshire, England, with his wife and four children.

Customer Reviews

Well written and a good story.
John G Williams
The plot development is formulaic, the characters undeveloped, and the ending entirely predictable.
Clemens Scharwath
The book lacks deep character development.
Bill H in Richmond

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

129 of 146 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
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.
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65 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Luckyclucker VINE VOICE on January 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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).

Yawn.

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.
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38 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Miss Chloe S. Batten on October 11, 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Keith Otis Edwards on February 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is my second attempt at reviewing The Fear Index. After finishing the book, I posted my thoughts on what a disappointing read it is, and I stand by that opinion. If you are expecting a Techno Thriller that will keep you reading all night, with bitchin' babes skilled in all twelve martial arts, with a cliffhanger in each chapter and sinister forces from the Vatican, you'll be sorely disappointed in this novel, because it's a slowwwww read. The book's second flaw is that once you figure out who the real killer is, there's no point in reading further, because it's more of the same, over-and-over. The killer's identity is absurdly conspicuous, yet other than the protagonist, none of the characters can figure out such an obvious thing, so they think the protagonist is Stark! Raving! Mad! It's pretty annoying.

Yet, on reflection, this is the only book that gets the future right, and the importance of that is profound. It's no spoiler when I reveal that the novel employs sci-fi plot #3 (there are only five different sci-fi plots): a super-advanced computer, a boon to all mankind, starts running amok. That much is obvious, because much of this book is simply people running up to the protagonist and saying, "Something's wrong!" and he replies, "Not now, I'm too busy!" "But . . . but . . . Have you seen what VIXAL is doing?" The point is made over and over, until you want to scream at the page, *OK! We get it! The furshlugginer algorithm's gone haywire!*

The salient feature of this rendition of such a shopworn plot is that for the first time anywhere (to my knowledge) Robert Harris, to his everlasting credit, gets it right. The future will not be anthropomorphic.
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