David Lentz's Reviews > The Fear Index

The Fear Index by Robert   Harris
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's review
Mar 03, 2012

it was ok
Read from March 03 to 09, 2012

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 became a "Jeopardy" champion and just was offered a new job on Wall Street, the theme seemed rather timely now, too. In a sense the question is whether the theme of HAL in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" may have even more relevance now. I had written a literary novel and Harris was targeting the commercial, mainstream audience focused upon best-seller lists. So I don't want to criticize his novel as if it were intended as more than a commercial thriller. However, I do have some problems with the novel within the context of a best-seller. The first question is why do so many people read books like this? I am as willing as the next person to suspend disbelief for the sake of a good read. But this thriller genre is rife with questions and so is the writing of this particular best-seller. Both the genre and this book are so incredible and unrealistic that they ask us to buy grotesque plot points for the sake of cheap thrills. I won't spoil the story line by outlining such incredible stretches of the imagination but they exist abundantly. In particular, I was surprised that Harris created such universally hateful characters. Does he want us to like any of them? Alex is a genius, of course, an exceptional mind devoted to physics, mathematics, investing, technology and Charles Darwin. But like many of those who reside in Greenwich and work at hedge funds here in the so-called "Hedge Fund Capital of the World," exceptional Alex in his Swiss mansion comes across simply as an exceptional dick. Are we fed up yet with all the Ann Randian, entitled and wealthy egomaniacs portrayed as heroic? Alex just struck me as an archetypal social clown: a self-centered, Randian "objectivist." Alex is akin to those captains of industry pulling strings as puppet-masters in our Federal elections, Congress and courts, which is simply more troubling than I can really say. For example, Alex pays his PR team to keep him out of the newspapers: they recommend that he not contribute to charity and so he doesn't. What a lovely concept for every billionaire to espouse. Even if Alex had Aspergers, maybe he could help cure it with a charitable contribution. However, Harris unbelievably intends for Alex to seem heroic somehow. Don't you find this odd in these economic times when so many people are so angry at Wall Street? Harris' portrayal as hero just struck me as just tone-deaf but maybe he is just reading the sentiments of his target market. Ditto for Alex's business partner -- another Randian objectivist. Alex's wife comes across as a flat, 2D, cardboard cut-out for whom Harris intends us to deem an object of pity. Harris creates a fight scene between Alex and another odd character, the muddled writing of the action of which I haven't witnessed since the nude wrestling scene in "Borat." I do respect the genuinely intriguing premise and inventive title for this novel: however, my experience with algorithms is that they lose reliability during times of intense market fear and greed among the herd. If you enjoy thrillers, like so many other people, then you might enjoy this standard, commercial, best-seller fare. Personally, I can't read most thrillers with a straight face and normally avoid them. While I certainly envy Harris his royalties for this brief book, he seems to have made a Faustian trade to bring cheap thrills to his commercial, mainstream readers. I encourage you to up your game by reading a novel outside this genre with sufficient craft to render your willing suspension of disbelief more worthwhile and to leave you feeling gratified for investing your scarce time in reading the book. I fear that "The Fear Index" is off the charts as simply a silly read.
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Reading Progress

03/04/2012 page 102
07/30/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Gary (new)

Gary Here, here. Well said!

David Lentz Dear Gary,
Your printed proof for "BOAPW" arrived today in Greenwich.
I'll ship it tomorrow to you.
Please let me know what you think and share your edits.
All of the best, Gary.

message 3: by Gary (new)

Gary Excellent--I'll watch for it.

Anthony David, well put! I used the same words as you when describing this book to a friend: cheap thrill, commercial, intended for the screen, and poorly written. I shouldn't say poorly written because it's much better than anything I could write, but I was so disappointed in what sounded like such an engaging premise. Oh well...it kept me turning the pages because I wanted to see if it would get any better...just enough to keep reading it!

David Lentz Thanks, Anthony. Looks like we share a common view on this one. I'm back to reading the good stuff.

message 6: by Iseult (new)

Iseult Although this is definitely not one of his best, Harris has written some extremely good books. Have you tried Enigma or Archangel? Although you seem to deride thrillers they are both very good examples of the genre. Also, I was wondering if English was your native language?

David Lentz Dear Iseult,
I do not speak the King's English as I'm an American.

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