Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Fear Index

My sadness at seeing that Blackwell's in Broomhill was about to close didn't stop me from going in and buying a few books at half price. One of them was The Fear Index by Robert Harris, and what a gripping read this turned out to be. Alex Hoffmann has become fabulously wealthy through his invention of an algorithm which plays the market by picking up on indications of fear and panic. The story begins when his apparently impregnable house is broken into in the middle of the night. He has a history of mental illness and as the sinister events pile up it is not clear whether he is in the throes of a breakdown or if someone - or something - is out to get him. It won't be giving too much away to say that he has created a monster and it's getting out of control. This is a modern Gothic novel and Harris admits as much by quoting from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein at the beginning of the first chapter. The narrative rips along and the description of the meltdown of the financial market is all too plausible. Harris has done his research and I did feel - at least for a while - that I understood something of how the market and hedge funds in particular work. It's a story of hubris, of human beings overreaching themselves, and though it's as old as Prometheus, Harris's is a fresh and chilling take on it.

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