(Masterpieces of American Literature)

One of the strengths of Clancy’s novels is their timeliness. The Sum of All Fears, published in 1991, reflects the immediate post-Cold War world. The Berlin Wall has fallen; the Soviet Union is no more. Yet the world is not necessarily safer. New tensions and old rivalries have replaced superpower antagonisms. International terrorism is obviously not new—Clancy himself wrote about it in Patriot Games—but without the restraining influence of the Cold War, terrorism could well pose a greater threat than in the past.

Ryan has risen to a position of authority in the CIA. Unfortunately, the new president, Jonathan Robert Fowler, a liberal, and his national security adviser, Elizabeth Elliot, a leftist academic, see such agencies as the CIA as incompetent and as relics of history that can be ignored. Ryan, who is not a politician, does little to avoid alienating Fowler and Elliot. The conservative Clancy holds no brief for their liberal politics, but even worse than their politics is their lack of morality. When Fowler and Elliot become lovers, it becomes obvious to the reader that they are destined to be Ryan’s foes.

In The Sum of All Fears, the terrorists are a mixed group of German Marxists, radical Muslims, and an American Indian. Each has different motives, but all are wedded to ideologies foreign to Western values and institutions. As in most of Clancy’s novels, technology plays a key role. The...

(The entire section is 501 words.)