Posted March 9, 2012 by D. K. Holm
Business and thrillers make uneasy bedfellows. If the story is filled with too much technical detail, the “average reader” is dismayed. If the book isn’t technical enough, the professional will laugh it off or lose interest. In his new fictionalized account of theFlash Crash on 6 May, 2010, of Robert Harris toes the technical line but surprisingly loses the reader, or at least one reader, with too much detail of another kind.
The Fear Index draws together three disparate strands into thriller form. First there is the financial crisis beginning in 2008 and the further, anomalous day of the mini-maximum crash. Only the astute reader will grasp that from the beginning Mr. Harris has set his book on that date. Second, there is the world of artificial intelligence, in this case the creation of a self-teaching computer. Third, there is evolution. In fact, one of the best features of the novel is the careful and surprising Darwin quotes selected to open most of the book’s chapters. They portray a Darwin who is a much more nuanced and observant thinker about human behavior than his public image encourages, and makes the reader want to pull down copies of his books.(1) In the course of The Fear Index, Darwin’s later volume, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) figures prominently as a plot point.(2)
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