Book Review: The Fear Index, by Robert Harris

New contributor to VB shares his book reviews with readers. Have you read the same, what did you think?

We’re very pleased to welcome a new contributor to the VB team. Jonathan Dodd is an experienced blogger and writer with a wide variety of interests. He’ll be sharing all sorts of content with VB readers, including regular book reviews. Here’s his first. Ed

Book cover:Whenever I hear about a new book by one of a very small number of writers, I just have to go out and devour it.

Robert Harris is one of these. Every book he writes contains a world so fully researched and imagined that it’s completely believable and immersive.

I know I can sit back and enjoy the ride and at the end everything will have made sense and I won’t have any of those annoying holes in the plot or loose ends worrying away in my mind. I also know that each story will contain great characters, a very satisfying story and lots to think about.

Satisfying thriller
I’ve just read The Fear Index, and it’s the most satisfying thriller I’ve read so far this year.

It concentrates on Dr Alex Hoffman, a super-intelligent physicist living in Switzerland who creates a computer system for a hedge fund that is able to react to all the market trends and world events in such an efficient way that it always makes money.

So far so good, and very topical, considering all the effects that banks and financial speculation have had on everyone in the world in the last few years.

Intriguing storyline
Alex’s system is so successful because it also tracks how humans react to events and is thus able to predict how people will behave, especially when they are afraid.

It is set up to use this knowledge to learn and improve its performance, and it becomes ever more successful at making money. I can’t say any more without giving away spoilers.

The story starts when Alex is woken up by an intruder in his supposedly impregnable house the night before a new version of the software goes public and investors are invited to invest further in the hedge fund.

Fascinating character
Alex is a fascinating character. He’s so wrapped up in his work that he seems almost autistic at times, his mind often racing ahead of everyone at breakneck speed, but he has problems relating to other people.

His business partner is his only friend and provides the company with its public face and his long-suffering wife puts up with him, but nobody really knows him. The story develops at a fantastic pace, new and surprising revelations are dropped in at regular intervals, and the whole plot feels like a puzzle where there are always more layers to unwrap until the very satisfactory conclusion. I actually gasped several times while reading it.

It feels very much like an updated, very topical version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

The Fear Index is a thrilling and very satisfying book, which also poses questions about whether we are in control of or at the mercy of the technology we’re creating.

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Friday, 15th June, 2012 3:43pm

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