Tom Clancy's, Red Storm Rising hit the bestseller list virtually upon publication in August of 1986 and it remained at the top of the bestseller list well into the end of 1987. As of the 1987 publication of Bowker's, 1,025,020 copies of the novel had
been sold and since then the number has escalated to well over 3 million. If the number of sales is not startling enough, then perhaps the fact that Red Storm Rising was Clancy's second novel is. But how can we account for such a phenomenon, especially
taking into consideration the infancy of Clancy's career? In examining the reviews of Red Storm Rising, we see the reviewers praise the novel, dubbed a "techno-thriller" as being action packed and technologically accurate, but what made Red Storm Risin
g a success was not merely its content, which appealed to a worldwide audience, but more importantly, its timing. When placed into historical context, we see that the effects the cold war and the rise of terrorism in the year preceding the novel's publi
cation created an overwhelming market for a novel dealing with World War III, which was at that time, a seemingly plausible possibility. The extensive media coverage of these topics only fueled the fire. While public interest in the democracy vs. commun
ism and the United States vs. The Soviet Union motifs was always present, this interest intensified with the rise of the blockbuster action film, which often dealt with US/Soviet conflict (i.e. "Top Gun" and "Red Dawn"). Red Storm Rising was merely a mor
e apocalyptic, literary version of such blockbusters. Lastly, Clancy as an individual undoubtedly spurned a public interest in his novel, for as he was not only a peculiar individual to begin with, he was also embraced by the Pentagon and even President
Reagan as a confidant, which also made Clancy, as an author, fascinating.
We can first account for the overwhelming success of Red Storm Rising by examining its reviews. The December issue of the American Spectator hailed Clancy's, Red Storm Rising, "the best read of the year." The June 26, 1987 issue of Publisher's Weekly
called Red Storm Rising, a "fascinating and totally credible story, told with authenticity and great suspense." Both Publisher's Weekly and The American Spectator seem to reiterate the overall reception of Clancy's work, and from merely scanning these
short but laudatory reviews, it is no wonder why the public ran out by the droves to purchase the novel. Not only was the novel supposedly entertaining, but its realism must have peaked the interest of the public.
Even the negative reviews of Red Storm Rising reflect its good attributes. Robert Lekachman of the New York Times Book Review wrote:
"Mr. Clancy's undistinguished prose is serviceable enough not to impede the flow of his narrative. His characterizations are on a Victorian boy's book level. All the Americans are paragons of courage, endurance, and devotion to service and country . .
. The enemy is almost equally virtuous . . . Don't get me wrong. Occasional longeurs aside, I enjoyed this rattling good yarn for the same reasons I used to curl up with one of C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower adventures. Lots of action. Good men
in tight spots. The comforting certainty that our side will win. Mr. Clancy has left the world in sufficiently tidy shape, so that, if he is so inclined, he can favor us someday with the story of World War IV."
p.7 - July 27, 1986
While Lekachman proclaims that Red Storm Rising is, by no means, a canonical masterpiece, the faults that Lekachman outline (i.e. colloquial language, the portrayal of Americans from a nationalistic viewpoint, and the fact that the novel ends shipshape) a
re what make the novel a bestseller. The fact that the novel's prose was "easily accessible" merely allowed a wider range audience to be able to read it. Naturally, the American public would want to find the characters representing their country as cou
rageous and virtuous, especially in light of the current events of the 1980s. And of course, the fact that Clancy leaves the world in "sufficiently tidy shape so that, if he is so inclined, he can favor us someday with the story of World War IV" reflects
the true nature of the American blockbuster, be that in literature or film, which always leaves its viewers in want of a sequel. All in all, Clancy's formula proves to be a recipe for a bestseller.
Since the reviews reveal why Tom Clancy's, Red Storm Rising became a bestseller (i.e. its readability, its action, its credibility), we must know account for the numbers of sales, for rarely does a bestseller reach such an overwhelming success as did thi
First, we can attribute some of Red Storm Rising's success to Clancy's first novel, The Hunt for Red October, as it in essence, paved the way for Clancy's super-hit. Clancy, an insurance salesman from Maryland, published The Hunt for Red October throu
gh the Naval Institute Press, and while its initial pressing amounted to only 14,000 copies, the novel took off nevertheless and became Clancy's first bestseller. Not only were hundreds of thousands of copies printed to supply the demand for the novel,
but the movie rights were sold soon after it reached the bestseller list and novel was made into a blockbuster film, starring Sean Connery and William Baldwin. President Reagan stated, with regard to The Hunt for Red October, that it was "non-put-downabl
e" and even went as far as inviting Clancy to the White House for dinner. Needless to say, with this popular president's support, the film version in the works, and the fact that Tom Clancy's success was the embodiment of the American Dream - a virtual
overnight success story, his next novel was greatly anticipated. That novel was Red Storm Rising.
But The Hunt for Red October cannot account for all of Red Storm Rising's success. We must also place Red Storm Rising within historical context. The cold war, which had raged on since the 50s between democratic and communist countries, while on its de
cline, still remained at the forefront of every American's mind during the 1980s, as the threat of nuclear war seemed very possible. Communism appeared to be on the rise. In its January 6th issue of 1986, Time magazine named Deng Xiaoping, the dictator
of China, "man of the year," due to China's prosperity under Xiaoping's socialist regime. Time also reported the communist success stories of Hungary, Yugoslavia, and the Philippines.
Not only was communism on the rise, but terrorism from Middle Eastern Islamic Fundamentalist groups showed a strong increase in 1986 with cult of personality giants like Gaddafi and Abu Nidal. Airports were bombed in West Germany, France, and London, El
Al jets were hijacked and hostages were killed several times, and the Achille Lauro cruise ship was seized as well - all by Islamic terrorist organizations.
It is no wonder then why Clancy chose to catalyze his story of World War III with the bombing of a Soviet oil refinery by an Islamic Fundamentalist group, and likewise, feeding off the cold war mentality, why the Soviet Union retaliated against NATO.
Other world conflicts were set in motion as well, during the mid 80s, which would offer Clancy a reason to involve the entire world. Iran and Iraq had been in conflict for nearly a decade, South American governments were being seized by guerilla revoluti
onaries, Apartheid in South Africa led to an all out racial war, the Soviet Union was pitted against Afghanistan, Israel was constantly at odds with its Middle Eastern Arab neighbors, especially Syria, and the conflict between Lebanon and Palestine rekind
led over religious issues. The United States was in economic conflict with Mexico and military conflict with Lybia, which was vehemently protested in France and Italy.
The whole world during the mid 80s was in a state of conflict. But here lies only the beginning.
To add to this whole mess, the Star Wars race between the United States and the Soviet Union had taken on nuclear capacities. Likewise, several disasters concerning nuclear power and space race occurred. For the United States, the spaceship Challenger e
xploded, killing an entire team of astronauts. In the Soviet Union, the infamous Chernobyl meltdown occurred, which allowed radiation to seep into neighboring countries. The Soviet Union attempted to cover up the disaster, which only produced more suspi
cion between the US and the USSR.
On the national forefront, AIDS was on the rise, the stock market had crashed several times, Ronald Pelton was tried for espionage, a new form of cocaine called "crack" became popular on the streets and all in all, it was a time of political and economic
turmoil. And as we have seen from history, it was the perfect climate for war.
Although the expected World War III never came to be, Clancy seized the opportunity during this time of upheaval to present a "what if?" scenario and capitalized from it. The fact that his novel dealt with the current events of the 1980s and the path to
which these current events would inevitably lead, undoubtedly fascinated people. People had the desire to see what would happen if World War III actually did break out. This desire was not limited to the United States either. Since the novel deals with
a World War, the novel had to be published in Dutch, French, and German as well, for most likely, people of other countries had the same intrigues.
Likewise, the technology involved within the novel fascinated the public as well. The mid 80s was a period marked by technological revolution. The Star Wars race between the United States and the Soviet Union fueled much of this advancement, as well as
the onset of the computer age. Much of this technological advancement occurred within the military. In the January 13, 1986 issue of Time Magazine, Evan Thomas wrote an article entitled, A Warrior Elite for the Dirty Jobs, which focused on the United St
ates Special Operations Units, like army rangers and navy seals. In the May 5, 1986 edition of time, an article on super-carriers was highlighted. Clancy uses both the special operations units and aircraft carriers extensively throughout his novel. His
research was so extensive and his portrayal so accurate, that the Pentagon feared that Red Storm Rising would declassify some of the military's top secret weaponry information. Red Storm Rising even mentions the stealth bomber, which the government had
not yet revealed had actually existed. The public's fascination with this technology and the accuracy in which Clancy portrays it was yet another enticing aspect to draw readers.
Clancy was not alone, however, in his media portrayal of the cold war mentality and the possible conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Mid 80s also marked the real onset of the action blockbuster, which often dealt with similar top
ics and gave birth to this new genre. Perhaps the most popular of these blockbusters was released in 1986 and was entitled, "Top Gun," which deals with air craft carriers and navy fighter jets. "Red Dawn," released in 1985, portrays the Soviet invasion
of the United States. Other notable titles include "Iron Eagle," and "Commando," which portray the wrongs of communist governments and the use of US technology to battle and conquer these communist regimes. While an onslaught of these blockbuster hits r
eached the movie screens, as well as a plethora of B movie titles dealing with the same subject, Clancy was the only writer to delve into the matter on a literary basis. He in essence, pioneered the genre of the "techno-thriller" as a novel. Since Clanc
y faced no opposition, the action blockbuster only bolstered the public's interest in the subject and steered them to Clancy's work.
Finally, Clancy, as an individual, undoubtedly spurned public interest in his novels. He is a notoriously peculiar man and often comes across as very cynical but overwhelmingly intelligent in his interviews, book signings, and even a Jeopardy appearance.
The August 8, 1988 article on Clancy in Newsweek reads:
"A devout and conservative Roman Catholic, he is an unapologetic homophobe. Clancy is a gun lover and constantly vows to "blow away" anyone who would harm his loved ones. "I have a romantic notion that if you hurt someone you should suffer for it," he s
ays. "Anyone who hurts a kid should be shot in the head and left to rot in the gutter."
Clancy owns his own tank and has recently purchased ownership of the Minnesota Vikings football team. While little is known of Clancy's personal life, as he refuses to reveal any particulars, it is this mysterious quality which fascinates viewers. The
fact that the Pentagon has embraced him as a confidant and a lecturer makes him all that more intriguing.
Thus, it is no wonder why Tom Clancy's, Red Storm Rising reached the overwhelming success that it did. Not only did the reviews reflect its shear entertainment value, but the current events of the mid 80s spurned enormous interest in the subject of Worl
d War III, as it was, a real possibility. Clancy combines the cold war mentality with technology to create a new genre, dubbed the "techno-thriller," which was followed by an enormous onslaught of blockbuster action films dealing with similar subjects, w
hich also fueled the interest of the public. Lastly, Clancy as an individual undoubtedly drew some attention to his novel, as he is a notoriously peculiar fellow, while at the same time, amazingly intelligent and valued as a resource within the military