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R.I.P., Tom Clancy: America’s thriller writer

Tom Clancy, who reinvented the thriller novel, died Wednesday at age 66. His impact on American culture was nearly as deep as his patriotism.

In the early 1980s, he was an insurance salesman whose aspiration to a military career had been thwarted by nearsightedness. He turned to writing about the life he — and millions of other Americans, mostly men — wished they could lead.

He sold his first manuscript, “The Hunt for Red October,” to the Naval Institute Press, which did not publish novels. His mastery of naval technology and procedures so impressed the editors that they took up publishing fiction so they could accept his book.

Clancy gave Americans surprisingly accurate glimpses inside U.S. and foreign military and espionage procedures. His knowledge was so thorough that U.S. government officials at first assumed he had access to classified information. Really, he read books and interviewed experts.

Certainly thousands, maybe millions, of Americans developed a love of books by reading Tom Clancy novels. They then went to his movies and bought his video games. He deserves a large share of the credit for the shift toward realism in all three of those media. And among the other details he got right: he knew who were the good guys and who the bad. R.I.P.

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