The Fear Index

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9780099553274: The Fear Index

A chilling contemporary thriller from Robert Harris set in the competitive world of high finance.

Dr Max Hoffman is a legend. A physicist once employed on the Large Hadron Collider, 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 "Fear Index" -- generates astonishing returns for his investors.

Late one night, in his house beside Lake Geneva, an intruder disturbs Hoffman and his wife while they are asleep. This terrifying moment is the start of Robert Harris's new novel -- a story just as compelling and timely as his most recent contemporary thriller, The Ghost. Over the next 48 hours, as the markets edge towards another great crash, Hoffman's world disintegrates. But who is trying to destroy him?
From the Trade Paperback edition.

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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.

About the Author:

ROBERT HARRIS is the author of Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium and The Ghost, all of which were international bestsellers. His work has been translated into thirty-seven languages. After graduating with a degree in English from Cambridge University, he worked as a reporter for the BBC's Panorama and Newsnight programmes, before becoming political editor of the Observer and subsequently a columnist on the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph. He is married to Gill Hornby and they live with their four children in a village near Hungerford.

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