At a Glance

Tom Clancy is the voice of the Cold War. In the early 1980s, at nearly forty years old, Clancy became a household name with his espionage novel The Hunt for Red October. The tale of a rogue Soviet submarine with nuclear capabilities perfectly captured the pre-Glasnost tension between the U.S.S.R. and the United States. The Hunt for Red October also launched the series that would define Clancy’s career. Its hero, Jack Ryan, along with his compatriot John Clark (introduced in a later novel), is the thread running through the Clancy canon. Having an enduring hero figure is only part of what makes Clancy’s spy tales must-read popular fiction, though; his intricate plotting and detailed depiction of intelligence work have kept Clancy on best-seller lists around the world.

Facts and Trivia

  • Clancy is an avid sports fan and is currently a co-owner of the Baltimore Orioles. An attempt to acquire another team fell through in the wake of his divorce.
  • A longtime conservative, Clancy surprised many in the wake of the September 11th attacks by speaking on behalf of the Islamic faith.
  • In the mid-1990s, Clancy branched out into video games. His Red Storm Entertainment has produced dozens of games based on his work.
  • In addition to espionage books, Clancy has also authored many nonfiction works about various aspects of the military.
  • Although ghostwriting is a common practice for deceased writers, Clancy has made a fortune from this practice while still very much alive. His Op-Center and Net-Force series are ghostwritten by other authors.

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Thomas L. Clancy was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1947. His father, a mailman, and his mother, who worked in a department-store credit office, provided him with a middle-class upbringing. Toys, particularly toys featuring military technology, fascinated the young Clancy; he also became and remained a voracious reader.

Educated in Roman Catholic schools, Clancy attended Loyola College in Baltimore, majoring in English. He later said that he always wanted to see his name on a book, although he never imagined that he would become a best-selling author. While in college, he was a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), but poor eyesight kept him out of the regular military, much to his regret. He married Wanda Thomas in 1969, shortly after leaving college, and the need to support his growing family of eventually four children led him away from a literary career and into a more immediately financially rewarding occupation as an insurance agent, and he eventually joined his wife’s grandfather’s insurance agency in rural Maryland.

Clancy never abandoned his quest to become a writer. He had a science-fiction story rejected, and in the early 1970’s, he began plotting a novel, a work that contained characters that would eventually populate his published books. During those years he also continued his extensive reading, particularly in science fiction and military manuals. Although he did well in business, by the end of the decade he again turned to the task of getting his name on a book jacket.

In 1976, a naval mutiny occurred on a Soviet frigate, the mutineers hoping to defect to Sweden. The mutiny failed, but the incident gave Clancy the inspiration for his first published novel. Written during several months in late 1982 and early 1983, the unknown author’s The Hunt for Red October was published in 1984 by the Naval Academy’s Naval Institute Press, which had recently decided to publish works of fiction, an unlikely publishing house to produce one of the best sellers of the year. Clancy said that he thought the work might sell 5,000 or 10,000 copies, but eventually 300,000 copies were sold in hardback and two million in paperback. Film rights were purchased for $500,000, and the motion picture, which starred Sean Connery as a defecting Soviet submarine captain, was a popular hit. Several of his other novels, including Patriot Games (1987) and The Sum of All Fears (1991), have also become...

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