From physics at Loyola to the Cold War

Defined a genre

Tom Clancy, whose complex, adrenaline-fuelled military novels spawned a new genre of thrillers and made him one of the world’s best-known and best-selling authors, died last month in Baltimore. He was 66, writes The New York Times.

Tom Clancy, who grew up in Baltimore, died at Johns Hopkins Hospital after a brief illness, his lawyer, J. W. Thompson Webb, said early last month.. Neither Mr Webb nor M. Clancy’s longtime publisher, Ivan Held, president of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, said he knew the precise cause of death. Mr Clancy’s debut book, The Hunt for Red October, was frequently cited as one of the greatest genre novels ever written. With the book’s publication in 1984, Mr Clancy introduced a new kind of potboiler: an espionage thriller dense with technical details about weaponry, submarines and intelligence agencies.

It found an eager readership. More than 100 million copies of his novels are in print, and a remarkable 17 have reached No. 1 on The New York Times’ best-seller list, including Threat Vector, released last December. Prolific until his death, Mr Clancy had been awaiting publication of his next book, Command Authority, set for December 3.

The impact of his books has been felt far beyond the publishing world. Some were adapted by Hollywood and became blockbusters starring Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck as Mr Clancy’s hero protagonist, Jack Ryan. Mr Clancy arranged for his thrillers to be turned into video games that were so realistic, the military licensed them for training. And on television, fast-paced espionage using high-tech tools in the Clancy mould found a place in popular shows like 24 and Homeland.

The enterprises made Mr Clancy a millionaire many times over and a familiar figure on the pop-culture landscape, frequently seen in photographs wearing a baseball cap and aviator sunglasses and holding a cigarette. With his riches he acquired an 80-acre farm on the Chesapeake Bay. He became a part owner of the Baltimore Orioles. He even bought a tank.

It was all a far cry from his days as a Maryland insurance salesman writing on the side in pursuit of literary aspirations and submitting his manuscript for The Hunt for Red October to the Naval Institute Press in Annapolis, Md. An editor there, Deborah Grosvenor, became mesmerized by the book, a cold war tale set on a Soviet submarine.

But she had a hard time persuading her boss to read it; Mr Clancy was an unknown, and the publisher had no experience with fiction. She was also concerned that the novel had too many technical descriptions, and asked Mr Clancy to make cuts. He complied, trimming at least 100 pages while making revisions.

‘I said, “I think we have a potential best seller here, and if we don’t grab this thing, somebody else would ”,’ Ms Grosvenor, now a literary agent, said in an interview on Wednesday. ‘But he had this innate storytelling ability, and his characters had this very witty dialogue. The gift of the Irish, or whatever it was — the man could tell a story.’

The press paid $5,000 for the book, publishing it in 1984.

The Hunt for Red October became a runaway best seller when President Ronald Reagan, who had been handed a copy, called it “my kind of yarn” and said that he couldn’t put it down.

But its details about Soviet submarines, weaponry, satellites and fighter planes raised suspicions. Even high-ranking members of the military took notice of the book’s apparent inside knowledge. In a 1986 interview, Mr Clancy said, ‘When I met Navy Secretary John Lehman last year, the first thing he asked me about the book was, ‘Who the hell cleared it?”, ‘

No one did, Mr Clancy insisted; all of his knowledge came from technical manuals, interviews with submarine experts and books on military matters, he said. While he spent time on military bases, visited the Pentagon and dined with military leaders, he said, he did not want to know any classified information.

‘I hang my hat on getting as many things right as I can,’ Mr Clancy once said in an interview. ‘I’ve made up stuff that’s turned out to be real — that’s the spooky part.’

Thomas Leo Clancy Jr. was born into a middle-class Baltimore family on April 12, 1947. As a boy he skipped over children’s literature to read naval history, poring over journals and books intended for career military officers and engineering experts.

He attended Loyola College in Baltimore, where he majored in English, and graduated in 1969. While he harboured ambitions to serve in the military — he joined the Army R.O.T.C. — he was told he was too near sighted. He began working instead at a small insurance agency founded by his wife’s grandfather in rural Maryland, a line of work he was happy to abandon after he found success as an author…

Full obituary in The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/books/tom-clancy-best-selling-novelist-of-military-thrillers-dies-at-66.html?ref=obituaries

Obituary in The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/books-obituaries/10351358/Tom-Clancy.html

Obituary in The Sydney Morning Heraldhttp://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/tom-clancy-author-of-military-thrillers-dead-at-66-20131003-2ut3a.html

Obituary in The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/tom-clancy-bestselling-author-of-the-hunt-for-red-october-dead-from-undisclosed-causes-aged-66-8854166.html

Tom Clancy’s best seller list: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2013/10/02/tom-clancy-no-1-books/2909567/

Wikipedia on Tom Clancy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Clancy

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