You can now read 5 articles in a month for free on Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.


In Tom Clancy, the culture wars met suspense novels

Continue reading below

Some unfortunate authors, whose critical acclaim exceeds their book sales, get pigeonholed as “writer’s writers.” Then there’s Tom Clancy. The author of 17 bestsellers, who died at age 66 on Tuesday, scoffed at any literary fancy. A former insurance salesman, Clancy’s self-professed goal was to be read, and to make money; he was the ultimate accountant’s writer.

Clancy’s thrillers sold millions, and his strengths as a storyteller are undeniable. Books like “The Hunt for Red October” and “Patriot Games” went on to become hit movies, making Clancy a household name in the 1980s and ’90s. Then again, his books reflected, and in some ways exacerbated, the cultural polarization of that era and the current one. His books glorified square-jawed military men, while sometimes indulging in caricatures of unpatriotic critics. That prep-school educated peace activist? Inevitably, a Russian spy.

Clancy’s defenders would argue that his books are mostly about suspense and cool hardware — and, besides, that left-leaning writers have long described US military figures in a one-dimensional, unflattering manner. But either way, it’s too bad when best-selling books pass Vietnam-era divisions and resentments along to subsequent generations. And for a storyteller of Clancy’s talents, it was unnecessary: His books would have been big hits no matter what.

Loading comments...
Want each day's news headlines delivered fresh to your
inbox every morning? Just connect with us
in one of the following ways:
Please enter a valid email will never post anything without asking.
Privacy Policy
Subscriber Log In

You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of
Marketing image of