To say that Tom Clancy was a creature of his times is not a put-down. It is a sovereign fact that he capitalized in a big way on the resurgence in capital P-style patriotism of the Reagan years, as well as the long-hoped-for healing of the nation’s wounds inflicted by the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal and the rise of the Rust Belt where our Industrial Might once stood. But that zeitgeist booster rocket he rode to vast fame and still vaster fortune would not have mattered one bit were Clancy not a first rate novelist—a master of the military thriller, a genre that if he did not invent, he made his own so thoroughly that he might as well have.
Clancy passed away Tuesday of undisclosed causes at the age of 66. To say he was an industry unto himself is not hyperbole. Seventeen of his novels sat atop the New York Times Best Seller List and one hundred million copies of his books are currently in print, but perhaps most culturally significant is that many of the movie adaptations of his books were not only wildly profitable, they were watchable as well (which probably had as much to do with Clancy's signature tight plotting, complex conflicts and memorable characters as anything the film makers did).