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The Fear Index

3.36 of 5 stars 3.36  ·  rating details  ·  6,160 ratings  ·  873 reviews
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, e
Hardcover, 323 pages
Published September 29th 2011 by Hutchinson (first published 2011)
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Manda Scott
I read this book for two reason. First, Mariella Frostrup said it was wondrous (Radio 4) and second, a friend in publishing said they were 'spitting mad' that Harris could turn out a 'half finished' book and have it sell by the bucket load when everyone else had to polish theirs to perfection and still didn't sell half as many.
So with that kind of bipolar recommendation, I had to have a look.
And my friend in publishing wins. Clearly Harris has reached the point of being uneditable because I wou
David Lentz
I read this book because it offered a theme that I had used in one of my early novels, "The Day Trader" first published in 2001 when day trading was only just emerging: what would happen if a complex, computer assisted algorithm for day trading went wildly awry? As I live in Greenwich, CT, I actually was quite curious after reading a review to see how Harris treated this theme as it relates to hedge fund trading in Geneva. With the steady emergence of artifical intelligence in IBM's Watson, who ...more
Our story so far, five chapters in: Rich, successful douchebag (an American living in Switzerland) suffers a concussion during a home invasion, becomes annoyed when he has to go to a regular hospital that's full of poors, goes back to work against doctor's orders, tries to solve the crime himself, describes Swiss architecture in excruciating detail, and quotes Darwin a lot. As you may be able to tell, I'm having trouble sympathizing with the main character.

UPDATE: Found out what the Fear Index i
Sam Quixote
A physics genius called Alex Hoffmann working at CERN in Switzerland creates a programme which is like an artificial brain that works faster than human brains and learns to get better at what it does - namely, make money on the stock exchange. Years later and in its fourth incarnation, VIXAL, as it’s called, is a programme that has made Hoffmann one of the top scientists of his day and a billionaire. But things start to go wrong and over the span of 24 hours he will see the extent of the monster ...more
Update: 8/3/2012 This article related to an automatic trading algorithm run a-muck is pertinent to this book. A larger question is whether this kind of trading benefits capitalism, in the sense it helps supply capital for businesses to grow, or whether it serves only the financial industry in its quest for making huge amounts of money without making anything.

The best thrillers and horror stories don’t involve chain saws or mutated snakes. They take someth
Jay Connor
Starting with this real world premise -- The May 6, 2010 Flash Crash[1] also known as The Crash of 2:45, the 2010 Flash Crash or just simply, the Flash Crash, was a United States stock market crash on May 6, 2010 in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged about 1000 points—or about nine percent—only to recover those losses within minutes -- Harris delivers a powerful story about market manipulations and greed at a speed faster than intervention could arrest. During this seven minute "Flas ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michael Boxall
This is the third Robert Harris novel I’ve read. Being dysnumerate—numbers make as little sense to me as the alphabet makes to dyslexics—I was put off Enigma by the math and never warmed to it much. The Ghost was more compelling, in part because the writer’s former career as a current affairs journalist seemed to lend it a Le Carre-esque veracity. I kept expecting Tony Blair to sue (although Harris must have bet, rightly, that Blair was too slick an operator to blunder down that particular alley ...more
Feb 13, 2012 Daniel added it
This book was terrible.

The characters are uninteresting, the plot is obvious and you can see the answer coming from miles away, and it has more holes than swiss cheese. Which, by the way, it's set in Switzerland, so that's convenient.

(view spoiler)
I honestly didn't want to give this only two stars because I harbour a residual loyalty for Robert Harris following his earlier great thrillers. Sadly, though, I found it incredibly difficult to relate to the characters, setting and plot of this book.

Briefly, the protagonist, eminent scientist-turned-hedge-fund-manager Hoffman, accidentally lets loose artificially intelligent software across his trading floor and his life, with disastrous, if somewhat predictable, consequences.

Hoffman is not esp
A review of The Fear Index by Robert Harris

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
L.K. Jay
I'm definitely a Robert Harris fan but I did wonder if I would be disappointed by this book due to the reviews on here. But I downloaded it anyway as I had some spare time on my hands. Well I'm glad I did as yet again, Harris has given us a well crafted, page turning thriller.

This novel is set in the financial world but don't let that put you off if, like me, you find stocks and shares confusing and impenetrable. The main character, Alex, is a genius in the finance world and we follow him as he
Ruthanne Davis
Though I know very little of the operations of the stock market, I had no trouble with the ins and outs of this fine Robert Harris novel whose two main characters are a rather misanthropic genious and artificial intelligence in the form of a computer that plays the stock market with astounding results. Sound boring? Believe me, throw in a murder, a horrible accident in an elevator shaft, and a bizarre home will keep you on pins and needles.

This was my first Robert Harris book and I
Simon Lipson
I've read a few Robert Harris books over the years and generally enjoyed them. The Ghost was a rare treat - witty, current and insightful. The Fear Index, on the other hand, is current but little else. A potentially interesting protagonist - scientist, genius, money-making machine - is one-dimensional and those around him are equally uninteresting. Harris's attempts to convey the lives of the rich, successful, privileged and/or arty fail hopelessly as he wobbles towards cliche. The story is thin ...more
In this era of IT and rather casual acceptance of consumer technology we tend to overlook the influence that its all had on our everyday lives. Terms such as hedge funds, quants, high frequency trading, flash crash and put options have entered our everyday lexicon but the impact of it all on international trade and economics is immeasurable. In this electrifying novel Robert Harris brings it all to the forefront. Dr. Alex Hoffmann, a brilliant mathematician has written an algorithmic formula to ...more
Christina Rochester
I was severely disappointed with this book. Expecting a gripping thriller where a man's life could be in danger, I was very disappointed to find its more to do with the stock market and someone or something making him have a mental breakdown. The worst part for me is that it was so involved in the stock market and describing points and trades that I was completely lost. I don't understand the stock market and have no great interest in it, therefore it made reading this book such hard work.

As fo
J.F. Penn
Full video review:

The Fear Index is an unexpected book from Robert Harris who is associated in my mind with historical thrillers like Pompeii and Fatherland, but it definitely doesn’t disappoint. I couldn’t put this book down which is surprising given the financial focus which usually sends me to sleep.

The book opens with Dr Alexander Hoffman receiving a first edition of Darwin’s Expression of Emotions with the book marked to the expression of fear. He c
I was initially surprised with the negative reviews Robert Harris was getting for his latest novel, The Fear Index. The first 180 odd pages were excellent, if not a little slow. The idea of developing and using software to perform logical tasks, removing human emotions and errors, and predicting movements in the financial markets, are all subjects of great interest. Most of the technical aspects mentioned are plausible and are available (in parts anyway) today; albeit not as 'robotic' or 'contro ...more
I don't think I could ever give a thriller of this kind more than 3 stars - I'm just too fond of good prose and character development. But this book was just plain bad.

First of all, how did Harris ever expect me to understand all the jargon and stock market talk? I tried to ignore it in the beginning, realised half-way that it wasn't important anyway, then got angry at him for putting it there in the first place.

Secondly, this book had many loose ends - something that is not allowed to happen in
Mark Stevens
I picked up “The Fear Index” shortly after finishing “The Ghost."

“The Ghost” stayed, for the most part, within itself. The ending was big and cinematic but for the most part the plot had a small, compact feeling.

Not so for “The Fear Index.”

Whether you’ll like it might depend on how far you are willing to swallow events on The Plausibility Index. This plot cranks the meter up into the shake-your-head-and-swallow-hard red zone, the needle spiked, but Harris manages to make us care about Alex Hoff
THE FEAR INDEX. (2011). Robert Harris. ****.
Here’s the latest techno-thriller from this English master of the genre. His last book out was “The Ghost,” whose title was changed to “The Ghost Writer,” when he collaborated with Polanski on the screenplay. If you haven’t seen that film, rent a copy immediately. Anyway, back to this one. It’s the story of Dr. Alex Hoffmann, a genius in computers and AI. He lost his job at the CERN facility in Geneva and split off to develop a hedge fund based on a s
Darren Vincent
Really Entertaining Book!

I picked this one up on a whim, expecting for the jargon of the financial world to go over my head, but that was not the case. Sure, I didn't understand every bit of the lexicon, but what I didn't understand was not immediately crucial to the plot and it allowed me to stay involved in the story.

If you have ever seen David Fincher's 'The Game' and liked it, then you would enjoy this book. It is as if the same company in the movie has set up another game for a different pl
British journalist-turned-bestselling-author Robert Harris has built
his reputation on depicting political intrigue, be it in ancient times
(Pompeii, Imperium) or modern (The Ghost, later made into the Roman
Polanski film starring Ewan McGregor), or even in an alternative
universe (Fatherland, set in a world in which Germany won World War

In his latest novel The Fear Index, he turns his eye on an industry
that, while not politics per se, has definitely become a political hot
potato. The financial i
I wish that I had read this book last year, when I received it as a Christmas present, after completing my entrepreneurial course in educational technology. Not that I didn't enjoy it reading it over the holidays this year, but a lot of the lessons learned about emerging technology were still fresh in mind, and no doubt this financial-sector thriller would have had more scares with those ideas fresh in mind. However, now that I have finished my studies with a course examining orality, literacies ...more
Sheila O'Flanagan
I was sure I'd love this because it's by one of my favourite authors and it's about finance, a subject I know a lot about. But the characters didn't come alive for me, the financial stuff was dreary and the whole computer out of control thing has been done to death. However maybe it was just me. Sometimes books don't engage a reader but it doesn't mean they're not for someone else!
This seems to have been marketed as a thriller but my library labeled it as SF, which I think is a bit more accurate. I had a hard time with the first few chapters. 'Why do I dislike all of these characters?' I kept asking myself. At about chapter 3, I actually flipped through to a point about 3/4 of the way in to see if the main character was still around, hoping something would have happened to get rid of him by that point in the story.

Fortunately, the pace picked up a couple of chapters later
After reading "The Book Thief" nothing was going to be as good.

A nice quick read & quite enjoyable. Anyone who has been watching "Person of Interest" on Channel 5 will have guessed what was happening before the main character Dr Alexander Hoffman realises - I know that I did. With the who/what/why answered, it's just a question of whether a) Alex can stop it & b) will his wife & the authorities believe him.
This Harris-turned-Crichton beatifully researched techno-thriller is predictable even to someone who knows absolutely nothing about finances, like myself. You guess the culprit in the first 10 pages and you become increasingly certain to the point where, by the first half, it all gets boring and you just want to skip to the end.

For a tech novel, it's thrilling but not very techie; for a thriller, it's very techie but not particularly thrilling. And for a best-seller, it's not all that "best" :)

A cleverly researched thriller that conceals several sneaky twists and a roaring chiller of an end. A billionaire quant hedge fund owner is jolted out of security by an ever spiralling set of events and must seek an answer before it is all too late. While many of the events strain credulity, the author gets defter towards the end of the book as the focus shifts towards high speed training leaving you with the feeling that it is all not so fantastic after all. To be fair the writing is not the be ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Librarian Note: There are several authors in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
Robert Dennis Harris (born 7 March 1957 in Nottingham) is a best-selling English novelist. He is a former journalist and BBC TV reporter. He specialises in historical thrillers noted for their literary accomplishment. His books have been translated into some thirty languages.
More about Robert Harris...
Pompeii Fatherland Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome (Cicero, #1) An Officer and a Spy Enigma

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“Right, you see that girl over there, the one in that group that keeps looking right at you?'...'Right, let's say I'm convinced she's wearing black knickers - she looks like a black knickers kind of gal to me - and I'm so sure that's what she's wearing, so positive of that sartorial fact, I want to bet a million dollars on it. The trouble is, if I'm wrong, I'm wiped out. So I also bet she's wearing knickers that aren't black, but are any one of a whole basket of colours - let's say I put nine hundred and fifty thousand dollars on that possibility: that's the rest of the market; that's the hedge. This is a crude example, okay, in every sense, but hear me out. Now if I'm right, I make fifty K, but even if I'm wrong I'm going to lose fifty K, because I'm hedged. And because ninety-five per cent of my million dollars is not in use - I'm never going to be called on to show it: the only risk is in the spread - I can make similar bets with other people. Or I can bet it on something else entirely. And the beauty of it is I don't have to be right all the time - if I can just get the colour of her underwear right fifty-five per cent of the time I'm going to wind up very rich...” 5 likes
“This was the problem with drinks parties: getting stuck with a person you didn't want to talk to while someone you did was tantalisingly in view.” 4 likes
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