Authors: Tom Clancy

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and historian

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Hunt for Red October, 1984

Red Storm Rising, 1986

Patriot Games, 1987

The Cardinal of the Kremlin, 1988

Clear and Present Danger, 1989

The Sum of All Fears, 1991

Without Remorse, 1993

Debt of Honor, 1994

Op-center, 1995 (with Steve Pieczenik)

Executive Orders, 1996

Tom Clancy’s Power Plays: Politika, 1997 (with Martin Greenberg)

Rainbow Six, 1998

Tom Clancy’s Power Plays:, 1998 (with Greenberg)

The Deadliest Game, 1999 (with Pieczenik)

Tom Clancy’s Net Force, 1999 (with Pieczenik)

Night Moves, 1999 (with Pieczenik)

Tom Clancy’s Power Plays: Shadow Watch, 1999 (with Greenberg)

Virtual Vandals, 1999 (with Pieczenik)

The Bear and the Dragon, 2000

Net Force: Hidden Agenda, 2000 (with Pieczenik)

Private Lives, 2000 (with Pieczenik)

Shadow of Honor, 2000 (with Pieczenik)

Red Rabbit, 2002


Submarine: A Guided Tour Inside a Nuclear Warship, 1993

Armored Cav: A Guided Tour of an Armored Cavalry Regiment, 1994

Fighter Wing: A Guided Tour of an Air Force Combat Wing, 1995

Marine: A Guided Tour of a Marine Expeditionary Unit, 1996

Airborne: A Guided Tour of an Airborne Task Force, 1997

Into the Storm: A Study in Command, 1997 (with Fred Franks, Jr.)

Carrier: A Guided Tour of an Aircraft Carrier, 1999

Every Man a Tiger, 1999 (with General Chuck Horner)

Future War: Non-Lethal Weapons in Modern Warfare, 1999 (with John B. Alexander)

Special Forces: A Guided Tour of U.S. Army Special Forces, 2001

Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces, 2002 (with Carl Stiner)


Thomas L. Clancy, Jr., is often described as the “king of the technothriller,” a genre in which elements from science fiction and suspense combine with descriptions of advanced military technology to drive the plot. The second of three children, Clancy was born into an Irish American, working-class family in Baltimore. His father was a postman, and his mother was a department store credit clerk. Educated in parochial schools, Clancy, a self-described “nerd” who enjoyed playing military board games, was an avid reader, especially of military history books and science fiction. Poor eyesight kept Clancy from joining the military as had his father, a World War II Navy veteran, but he did join the ROTC while at Loyola College. There he majored in English and dreamed of becoming a famous novel writer. After graduation in 1969, Clancy married Wanda Thomas and became an insurance underwriter in Connecticut; he later worked at the insurance firm in Maryland owned by Wanda’s grandfather. The couple had three daughters and one son. In 1980 Clancy bought the family company, which afforded him some time to focus again on writing. (In 1998 Clancy and Thomas divorced, and in 2000 Clancy married former television newscaster Alexandra Maria Llewellyn.){$I[A]Clancy, Tom}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Clancy, Tom}{$I[tim]1947;Clancy, Tom}

Tom Clancy

(John Earle)

According to Helen S. Garson, author of Tom Clancy: A Critical Companion (1996), Clancy’s early love of science fiction combined with his fascination with military gadgets and technology, interest in computers, reverence for all things related to the military, and patriotic fervor to create a solid base for the genre for which he would become famous.

Like James A. Michener, famous for his in-depth research of people and places for novels such as Hawaii (1959) and Centennial (1974), Clancy writes his novels and nonfiction works after conducting extensive research in military technology, culled from such publications as the Armed Forces Weekly and Jane’s Defence Weekly, and collaborating with subject experts ranging from Soviet defectors to retired Air Force generals. The resulting best-sellers contain tremendous detail about terrorist operations, fleet maneuvers, military hardware, and intelligence technology.

Clancy based his first novel on the real-life attempted defection to Sweden by the crew of the Storojeroï, a Soviet frigate. After conducting extensive research on nuclear submarines, and with advice from then-naval analyst and computer war game expert Larry Bond, author of Red Phoenix (1989), Clancy finished The Hunt for Red October in 1982; it was published by the Naval Institute Press in 1984. A strategic public relations plan that targeted Washington area bookstores and government officials combined with good book reviews to boost sales. The Hunt for Red October became a best-seller after it was given to President Ronald Reagan, who described it as “the perfect yarn.”

Like technothrillers by writers such as Stephen Coonts, author of Flight of the Intruder (1986), Clancy’s novels rely on a predictable structure: a main plot about a current threat to world stability combined with multiple subplots, all wrapped within intense technical detail. In Clancy’s novels, according to Garson, “political views are central and powerful . . . old and new fears of the Russian bear, the red menace, creeping communism, Asians and Latins, all these [are] personified through evil characters.” Clancy’s work appeals to what critics such as Jason Crowley of the New Statesman describe as an American fascination with and addiction to “narratives of catastrophe.” Indeed, reality mirrored fiction on September 11, 2001, when Islamic militants hijacked civilian planes–a scenario similarly portrayed in Clancy’s 1991 The Sum of All Fears.

In Clancy’s work, world chaos threatens and must be restrained and eliminated by heroes such as Jack Ryan, a former U.S. Marine, history professor, and civilian employee of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Often described as Clancy’s alter ego, he is similar to other Clancy characters, who, as Louis Menand of The New Yorker describes, are “daring . . . highly trained, disciplined, clean-cut, and honest” and somewhat cynical because “they know how hard it is to live up to principles, they know how easy it is to cheat on them, and this knowledge makes them at times acutely aware that the world is probably not entirely worthy of their dedication to its survival.”

Whether capturing a Soviet nuclear submarine in The Hunt for Red October, taking on Columbian drug cartels in Clear and Present Danger, or preventing a takeover of the world by an evil Japanese business consortium in Debt of Honor, Clancy’s characters (and his writing formula) have made him one of the most financially successful writers of all time. By 2002, his novels and nonfiction books (now published by Penguin Putnam) had sold more than fifty million copies.

Critics, while generally complimenting Clancy on his ability to write action-oriented tales, have often criticized his simplistic views on world politics and tendency to create stereotypical characters. Menand describes Clancy’s characters as people who are “cut out carefully along the dotted lines” and points out how Clancy’s female characters are often humiliated or punished for no apparent reason. Others critique Clancy’s prose as uninspired; “prose that is no better than workmanlike” according to Robert Lekachman. More recent complaints circle around the increasing number of subplots and tome-size books.

Nonetheless, Clancy’s popularity continues. In addition to his many novels, he has written nonfiction works such as Submarine and Fighter Wing, which detail American war-fighting resources, and a series of books about and with military commanders, such as Every Man a Tiger with Air Force general Chuck Horner. According to Crowley, Clancy has franchised his name to other writers under the Op-Center series and expanded his work into multimedia through his Red Storm Entertainment company that creates video games based on his books. The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears have been turned into films. Clancy has also turned the Op-Center and Net Force paperback series into television products. He has become what Crowley describes as “his own global brand.”

No matter the medium in which his work appears, according to Garson, Clancy’s popularity is a result of his ability to convey “the reassurance of safety even as the real or fictional world explodes. . . . We can confront our foes, knowing someone else will act for us and win. Our hero–ourself–will live to fight another day.”

BibliographyAnderson, Patrick. “King of the ‘Techno-Thriller’: Or, How Tom Clancy Quit Selling Insurance and Became a Very Rich Novelist.” The New York Times Magazine, May 1, 1998, pp. 54-55, 83-85. Author interviews Clancy and describes his early influences and current work.Bishop, Chuck. “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan: Secular Catholic Hero?” Catholic New Times 26, no. 16 (October 20, 2002). Essay on the Catholicism of Jack Ryan, John Kelly Clark, and other major characters in Clancy’s books. Also compares the policies of fictional president John P. Ryan with actual president George W. Bush.Buckley, Christopher. “Megabashing Japan.” The New York Times Book Review, October 2, 1994, pp. 28-29. Review of Debt of Honor. Analyzes Clancy’s male and female characters and his prose style.Clancy, Tom. “An Interview with Tom Clancy.” Interview by John Mutter. Publishers Weekly 230, no. 6 (August 8, 1986): 53-54. Clancy details his early influences and novels.Cowley, Jason. “He Is the Most Popular Novelist on Earth, Whose Images of Catastrophe Animate the American Psyche.” New Statesman, no. 130 (September 24, 2001). An essay on Clancy arguing that the main reason for his popularity is that his novels are responding to a kind of nihilism permeating American culture that is driven by the need to entertain.Garson, Helen S. Tom Clancy: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Critical study of Clancy’s writing also examines his work and his personal beliefs and attitudes. Includes analysis and discussion of eight of his novels, a bibliography of Clancy’s work, and critical sources and reviews.Greenberg, Martin H., ed. The Tom Clancy Companion. Rev. ed. New York: Berkeley Books, 2005. Features an introduction by Larry Bond, Clancy’s collaborator on Red Storm Rising and consultant for The Hunt for Red October; a long essay by Marc A. Cerasini,“Tom Clancy and the Coming of the Techno-Thriller,” which examines the concept of the technothriller while comparing and contrasting Clancy with other authors; an interview with Clancy by Greenberg, explaining how Clancy came to write The Hunt for Red October and other books; reprints of short essays by Clancy on a variety of subjects; and a concordance on military units, ships, planes, equipment, and characters in the novels.Lekachman, Robert. “Making the World Safe for Conventional War.” The New York Times Book Review, July 31, 1988, p. 6. Reviews The Cardinal of the Kremlin and Clancy’s writing style.Menand, Louis. “Very Popular Mechanics.” The New Yorker, September 16, 1991, 91-92, 94-95. Review of The Sum of All Fears. Also discusses Clancy’s popularity and writing strategies.Vinciguerra, Thomas. “Word for Word: The Clancy Effect.” The New York Times, August 18, 2002. Quotes passages from several of Clancy’s novels as examples of poor literary style and comments on the good and bad aspects of his fiction.
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