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The Fear Index by Robert   Harris
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Feb 19, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: thrillers
Read in February, 2012

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 series of algorithms that he developed. What was different about his algorithms was that they were based on the level of fear detectable in the world’s investors. He believed that fear was the driving force in the investment community rather than actual company performance or any other economic indicator. His hedge fund soon grew to the point that he and his partner manages several billion dollars for their clients. Suddenly, however, Alex began to experience events that were supposedly driven by his actions, but he had no memory of having done anything to set these actions in motion. The first event was his receipt of a first-edition copy of Darwin’s, “The Display of Emotions in Man and Animal,” with the section on fear noticeably marked. Although the bookshop claimed he ordered and paid for it himself, he had no recollection of doing so. Other events followed in a similar vein. What was happening? During the course of the story, we also learn that the computers running the business were exceeding the hedge risk without authorization. One thing you should be prepared for with this novel is the extensive use of financial terms related to today’s processes of electronic trading in a variety of markets. Also be prepared for a lot of computereze jargon, even though you can get by with being a duffer like me and not miss the thrust of the story. As the story progresses, we are presented with a variety of clues to what might be going on: maybe his partner is involved; maybe his old associates from CERN are involved, or; maybe the computers are evoving into something more than they were designed to be. Aside from the haziness of the possible solutions, the author manages to keep you riveted to the page to follow Alex during these times of upheaval. Recommended.
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