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The Fear Index

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  8,533 Ratings  ·  1,042 Reviews
Dr Alex Hoffman is a legend. An American physicist once employed on the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, he now uses a revolutionary and highly secret system of computer algorithms to trade on the world's financial markets. None of his rivals is sure how he does it, but somehow Hoffman's hedge fund - built around the standard measure of market volatility: the VIX or ' ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published September 29th 2011 by Hutchinson
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Charlotte Wildflower I'm sure it is the last part of your question that is true.
To be free.
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Community Reviews

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Manda Scott
Oct 17, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nick Davies
Apr 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, book-group
This was an enjoyable read, which I'd say is probably the most important thing about fiction. Robert Harris is clearly a very decent writer, and I have enjoyed two or three of his 20th Century historical novels very much, but was a little apprehensive after being given this to read by my book group - having been less keen on Harris' 'The Ghost' and 'Pompeii'.

No need to be. This is clearly a well researched and ambitiously (yet realistically) complex story about the use of computer algorithms to
Jan 19, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 22, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 10, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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)
Mar 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has received mixed reviews--largely, I suspect, because reviewers understand little about finance and computer technology. Actually, it's a hair-raising triumph, one of the most subtle and convincing stories about artificial intelligence I have read. Having written a book on this subject myself--Hybrids--I know a good deal about the progress being made in the field, and some of it is startling, chilling and quite wonderful, and Harris really captures the strangeness and menace of such ...more
Sep 06, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars for this one. I have definitely become a fan of Harris after reading a few of his novels. This one was a little different than the others I've read in that it isn't a war/historical-based novel. It's modern and deals with the topic of AI, how much computers have taken over our lives, and what might happen if programs were to gain the capacity to "operate independently & teach themselves" at a pace that outstrips human ability. The story is engaging and definitely moves along quickl ...more
*The Fear Index* is a breakneck thrill-ride that courses its way through the worlds of artificial intelligence and hedge fund investment, with a very brief side trip to a truly terrifying Internet outpost. The story twists and turns like a rollercoaster and a tilt-a-whirl put together (a tilt-a-coaster?), and I must admit that Harris had me hook, line, and sinker from the first paragraph to the last. If I had a shelf titled "High Speed Page Turners" on my Goodreads profile page, this book would ...more
Michael Boxall
Jan 31, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller
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
L.K. Jay
Apr 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller
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
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
Henri Moreaux
Ah, I love a good financial thriller, and this is certainly one.

I've enjoyed every Robert Harris book I've read so far and this one is no exception. Whilst some may be turned off by the financial jargon and intricacies involved I found it suitable for the premise of the novel. There's nothing worse than reading a book about a topic the author is clueless on - thankfully that is not the case here.

About half way through you get a sense about whom is behind what's going on, however I didn't feel th
Ruthanne Davis
Nov 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Wayland Smith
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Greg Z
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Stanley Kubrick's film masterpiece, "2001", put the nail in the coffin of the "Computers Gone Wild" trope over 50 years ago. There is nothing new here. However, the hard book version I read had a spectacular cover: thousands of raised, green tiny dots which gave the actual reading of the book a tactile experience and the book/hardware does look great. So one star for the story, but another star for the very nice cover design, hence my 2-star rating.
Tom Swift
3.5 stars.

A hedge fund manager designs a trading program that becomes too advanced.
Joel Fishbane
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed-books
You won't find Robert Harris sitting in that deadly of all sections known as Literary Fiction, at least not in America. If his books show up anywhere, it's either in the category of General Fiction or that risky sub-genre known as "Thriller". You can find him in the airports and pharmacies if not proudly displayed on the bestseller's table at your local book emporium. For this reason, highbrow literary know-it-alls generally refer to him (when they refer to him at all) as their guilty pleasure. ...more
May 02, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thrillers
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
Sep 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dr. Alexander Hoffman is a brilliant physicist-turned-financier who may be losing his mind. It’s not as if the software he designed to manage investments in stocks, securities, and the like isn't still successful; it’s turned him into one of the wealthiest men in town, and in Geneva, Switzerland, that’s saying something. It’s just that strange things keep happening, like a book arriving in the post which he apparently bought, using a bank account he had no idea existed, and the fellow trying to ...more
Ubik 2.0
Mi stupisce che Robert Harris, un ottimo autore nel suo genere, abbia in qualche modo sprecato un soggetto così sbalorditivo. La costruzione drammatica del romanzo non è infatti minimamente all'altezza dell'idea di fondo che avrebbe consentito l'approfondimento e l'evoluzione verso scenari ben più carichi di suspense e di implicazioni scientifiche, filosofiche e addirittura esistenziali.

Invece Harris ci intrattiene per 3/4 di libro con trame secondarie, poco originali e abbastanza noiose: il te
Darren Vincent
Aug 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
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
Jul 29, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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...” 6 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.” 6 likes
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