The 10 Best Tom Clancy Books
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in May of 2016. If you enjoy technically accurate espionage and military stories, pick a title from our selection of Tom Clancy books, and then find a comfortable chair to curl up in. Ideal for fans of sprawling international tales with clearly-defined moralities, these fast-paced, highly-detailed thrillers will keep you turning the pages -- and wondering how much of it is actually true. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
May 29, 2019:
Swapped out "The Bear and the Dragon" for "Cardinal of the Kremlin." The former is a little stilted and awkward at times, and revealed an author on the downswing of his career. The latter, on the other hand, is an intriguing examination of Cold War-era spycraft — a topic that gets more relevant every day.
Clancy's debut, "The Hunt for Red October," remains his triumph. He was at his best when he balanced extremely high-stakes international clashes with intimate, personal conflicts, and a stolen nuclear submarine is the ideal place for such a drama to play out.
"Without Remorse" is one of the most interesting entries here. Part of the Jack Ryan storyline — the first book in the series, chronologically speaking — it works equally well as a standalone novel. Still, we'd recommend newcomers to Clancy's works start with "The Hunt for Red October" and proceed to "The Cardinal of the Kremlin," as "Without Remorse" has more emotional impact once the characters in Clancy's universe have already been introduced and well-defined.
Choosing A Tom Clancy Book
The last five book's Clancy published were all written with a partner.
Newcomers to the writings of Tom Clancy are well-advised to start with the same book that put the writer on the literary map in 1987. His debut novel, The Hunt for Red October, is a gripping tale of a Cold War-era cat-and-mouse game played between cunning submariners. Clancy spent at least two years writing the book, and his work shows through in the technical accuracy and taut plot line of the October. This book was the first to feature Jack Ryan, a character many readers will come to feel they know as if he were a personal friend.
If you prefer not to dive right into a huge catalog of books centered around a single character and his exploits, yet you still want to experience Clancy's writing, his two standalone novels are Red Storm Rising, published in 1986, and Against All Enemies, which came out in 2011. In total, Clancy wrote (or co-authored) 21 novels; 19 of which featured his signature character, Jack Ryan, an accomplished military and intelligence officer who would eventually become a two-term president of the United States (this plot line commences in Debt of Honor).
While less well-known for his nonfiction writing, Clancy was the author of many books packed with real life stories and rich in information about actual military machinery, fighting units, and strategy. His nonfiction works explored everything from the soldiers, weaponry and the tactics of a Marine Expeditionary Unit to shelling light on what life is like aboard a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarine. Tom Clancy's Military Reference books read with almost the same fast pace as his celebrated fictional works, yet are valid resources for the individual researching a given weapons system, special forces team, or other component of the modern American military. They are also simply pleasurable reads for anyone interested in the United States Army, Air Force, Navy, or Marine Corp.
Readers should note that Clancy did not write all of his books alone, often partnering with another author to complete his works. This was especially true later in the author's life. The last five book's Clancy published were all written with a partner. Mark Greaney assisted Clancy on the final three -- in fact, Greaney has continued to write books in the Jack Ryan series Clancy created, and is considered by many a worthy successor to the late master.
Movie Adaptations Of Tom Clancy's Work
In the modern era, the greatest tribute a book can receive is often to be made into a major motion picture. Tom Clancy's books received this honor many times over. (His works also inspired hugely successful video game franchises, for which he often consulted.)
The film also featured Sean Connery, James Earl Jones, and Sam Neill, among others in the cast.
While movies rarely do justice to the books on which they are based, watching a film after you have already read its source material is often a pleasure, and occasionally a disappointment. The film versions of Clancy's novels are generally accepted to be faithful and well-made movies, and they've starred some of Hollywood's most famous actors.
The film version of The Hunt for Red October came out in 1990 and starred Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan. The film also featured Sean Connery, James Earl Jones, and Sam Neill, among others in the cast. It grossed an estimated $200 million at the box office, having cost some $30 million to produce.
In 1992, Harrison Ford took over the role of Ryan, starring in the film Patriot Games, which was another box office success and earned generally favorable critical reviews. In 1994, Ford reprised the Ryan role in Clear and Present Danger, which earned more than $219 million in ticket sales and which is considered a critical success despite being largely devoid of memorable acting.
Then, in 2002, Ben Affleck was cast as Jack Ryan in the film adaptation of The Sum of All Fears. This film received largely mixed reviews, but it made back its budget several times over. Clancy's works have been the inspiration for other media projects, including a made-for-TV film and another theatrical motion picture, but these four films remain the only adaptations.
Tom Clancy: A Brief Biography
Tom Clancy came to writing at an age when most people are firmly set on a career path. He did not commence serious novel writing until he was well into his 30s, and did not see his first book published until he was 38. That debut publication was a life-changing event, however, with The Hunt for Red October eventually selling millions of copies, greatly aided by the praise of President Ronald Reagan, who called the book a "perfect yarn."
He would never serve in the military due to his poor eyesight, however.
Clancy was born in 1947 in Baltimore, Maryland, the city in or near which he would spend much of his young life. Clancy attended both high school and college in Maryland, joining the Reserve Officer's Training Corp while studying at Loyola College. He would never serve in the military due to his poor eyesight, however.
Clancy took work with a Connecticut-based insurance agency after college, before moving back to Maryland in his later 20s. He took a job at a family-run insurance agency, which he would go on to purchase in the year 1980. His career as an insurance salesman was soon to come to an end, though.
Tom Clancy earned a $5,000 advance for October, which was published by the Naval Institute Press. His subsequent book advances would add on several zeroes; soon the author was earning millions of dollars for his writing, and by the end of the 1980s, he had established his brand of quick-paced, well-informed military-themed fiction.
With wealth and acclaim came two large homes, both of which were located in Maryland. Clancy had four children during his long first marriage, and one during his second. The author died in October of 2013 in a hospital in his native Baltimore. He was only 66 years old, but had already redefined the boundaries of fiction in the minds of many readers and critics.