15 Best Tom Clancy Books: Spy Dramas & Military Realism from the Creator of Jack Ryan

Discover action-packed tales of espionage with the best Tom Clancy books, and stand side by side with his beloved hero, Jack Ryan.

Take a look at our list of the best Tom Clancy books, curated specifically for fans of the spy, military history, and political thriller genres.

American author Tom Clancy was born in Baltimore in 1947 and died in 2013 at the age of 66. His first book, The Hunt for Red October, made him a millionaire after it was endorsed by Ronald Reagan. 

A literary giant with undeniable commercial success, Clancy claimed the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller chart no less than seventeen times. Only JK Rowling and John Grisham overtook him in sales, according to The Guardian.

Clancy created perhaps one of the most beloved heroes in the action genre – Jack Ryan, a veteran turned CIA analyst, then president. But character development wasn’t Clancy’s only strong point. His authenticity regarding military operations, jargon, and equipment is unparalleled.

 “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.

Tom Clancy

If you are a Clancy fan or just enjoy the genre, check out our list of authors like Tom Clancy.

Best Tom Clancy Books Ranked

1. The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red October
The book became popular after US President Ronald Reagan called it “the perfect yarn.”

Tom Clancy’s first novel, The Hunt for Red October, originally published in 1984, launched his career. The story follows a Soviet nuclear submarine called Red October, which sparks a conflict between the U.S. and Soviet Russia. All that is known is that the sub is heading for the US coast. Enter Clancy’s hero, Jack Ryan, a stellar CIA analyst thrown from his desk into the field. 

The novel grips you from start to finish, allowing you to experience the tense atmosphere of the Cold War, stemming from the competition between the two superpowers that defined the period. 

Clancy is a meticulous writer, and that quality shines through in his first novel. The characters in the book, from state and army officials to CIA spooks, not to mention their Russian counterparts, are presented in detail and given credible backgrounds. The technical aspects of the story, particularly concerning life on a submarine, demonstrate Clancy’s passion for naval history. 

“In the Soviet Union, every worker is a government worker, and they have a saying: As long as the bosses pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work.”

Tom Clancy, The Hunt for Red October
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02/19/2024 04:51 pm GMT

2. Clear and Present Danger

Clear and Present Danger
Before becoming an author, Clancy worked as an insurance broker in Maryland

Clear and Present Danger, which originally came out in 1989, places familiar hero Jack Ryan in the middle of a war between the United States and a Colombian drug cartel. Now appointed the CIA’s Deputy Director of Intelligence, Ryan has to steer the agency after the cartel has the U.S. ambassador and the head of the FBI assassinated. Aided by agent John Clark, Ryan takes on the cartel and uncovers a conspiracy closer to home. 

A master of the spy and military genres, Clancy’s books excel through realism, and Clear and Present Danger is no exception. The way he describes every sequence of events places you in the room, making you part of every discussion or conflict. 

Visually rich and carefully built page by page, the plot in Clear and Present Danger will have you hooked.

“The first step in accomplishing any goal was deciding that it was possible.”

Tom Clancy, Clear and Present Danger
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02/18/2024 02:31 pm GMT

3. Patriot Games

Patriot Games
The novel reveals the origins of Clancy’s famous hero, Jack Ryan

Jack Ryan faces down a group of international terrorists in Patriot Games after he prevents an assassination attempt on Britain’s royal family. In retaliation, a deadly IRA terrorist and his entire cell vow to track him down, along with his pregnant wife and young daughter. 

The book is essentially the story of how Ryan started working for the CIA. While it does not compete with Clancy’s first novel in terms of nail-biting action, Patriot Games reveals the character of Jack Ryan, a veteran and a family man caught between power struggles and political interests. 

Still relatively action-packed, the novel demonstrates Clancy’s skillful use of tempo to keep the reader engaged until the final showdown.

“Ryan knew enough about the law to remember that lawyers rarely concern themselves with truth. The rules were far more important.”

Tom Clancy, Patriot Games
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02/19/2024 01:50 am GMT

4. Without Remorse

Without Remorse
The book is the first to center around a new hero named John Clark

Published in 1994 and recently adapted into a movie, Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse centers around John Kelly, codenamed Mr. Clark. 

A former Navy SEAL and a Vietnam war veteran, Kelly loses his wife in an accident and later befriends a young woman with a dangerous past. To protect her, he sets out to punish the men that threaten her. At the same time, the U.S. military asks Kelly to come back to active duty and save a group of prisoners in a camp in Vietnam. 

More rugged and rough than Jack Ryan, Kelly is exactly the type of hero you’d love to see taking on terrorists and evildoers. The 2021 adaptation of the book featuring Michael B. Jordan strayed far from the book – but that just means that readers will be rewarded with a rather new story. 

“Life had to have a purpose, and one such purpose was the service of others.”

Tom Clancy, Without Remorse
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02/18/2024 02:51 pm GMT

5. Rainbow Six

Rainbow Six
Clancy co-founded the video game developer that made the eponymous Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon series

In the 1999 techno-thriller novel Rainbow Six, Clancy again gives center stage to ex-Navy SEAL John Clark. A skilled agent, Clark is named to head a task force dedicated to combating terrorism. 

His first missions involve a kidnapping in Germany, an attack on an amusement park in Spain, and an incident at a Swiss bank. Although apparently separate incidents, there is a connection. In the shadows, an extremist terrorist organization named the Night Stalkers is planning the end of life on Earth. The novel plunges the reader into the spy and counter-terrorism world of gunfights, bombs, and deceit. 

This novel was ahead of its time and it is somewhat unsettling due to the similarities with the COVID-19 pandemic. In Rainbow Six, the Night Stalkers plan to use a modified Ebola virus to eliminate life. The book inspired the highly popular Rainbow Six Siege game.

If you enjoy Rainbow Six, you might want to check out Robert Ludlum, who created the famous superspy Jason Bourne. Or read our list of the best authors like Robert Ludlum, for some variety.

“I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect that we will always work for it.”

Tom Clancy, Rainbow Six
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02/18/2024 02:51 pm GMT

6. Red Storm Rising

Red Storm Rising
The novel is standalone, unconnected to Clancy’s major book series

Published in 1987, Red Storm Rising is Tom Clancy’s second novel. The plot begins with Muslim fundamentalists blowing up a Soviet oil complex, leading the U.S.S.R. to devise a plan to occupy the Persian Gulf and seize the oil there. An all-out war follows as the Soviets pour into Europe and the North Atlantic.

One of Clancy’s foremost techno-thrillers and war fiction novels, Red Storm Rising tells what a conflict between the Cold War’s superpowers could have been like in the absence of nuclear disaster. Large-scale battles, memorable characters on both sides and military machinery are all depicted masterfully by Clancy’s stellar realism

Although over 30 years old, Clancy’s book was once again ahead of its time, and similarities can be seen between his description of Soviet tactics and Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine. Military enthusiasts may find the book especially compelling.

“The relationship between fatigue and errors was as certain as gravity.”

Tom Clancy, Red Storm Rising
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02/19/2024 01:28 am GMT

7. Debt of Honor

Debt of Honor
Together with Executive Orders, the book serves as a two-part sub-series

Debt of Honor, another entry in the Jack Ryan books, follows the hero as he is called out of retirement to aid the US President as his National Security Advisor. Ryan meets America’s new enemies head-on with the help of CIA officers John Clark and Domingo Chavez. 

Debt of Honor delivers an exhilarating, action-packed story and non-stop suspense. Chapters will fly by as markets become disrupted, bombs go off, and attacks shock the world. International politics, warfare, terrorism, spy games, and much more are all crammed into an unforgettable novel. 

“There was nothing like an appeal to honor. It was a virtue that all craved, even those who lacked it.”

Tom Clancy, Debt of Honor
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02/18/2024 03:05 pm GMT

8. The Bear and the Dragon

The Bear and the Dragon
Seventeen of Clancy’s books have hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list

Jack Ryan has just been elected president and has a series of challenges ahead of him – economic downturns, an unstable Russia, and unknown assassins. While John Clark heads to Moscow to investigate, forces in China are keen to take what they think is their rightful place at the top of the world order. 

A lengthy read, The Bear and the Dragon, published in 2001, picks up where Rainbow Six left off. It takes a bit of time to wind up to the action. Once it does, however, it becomes hard to put down. 

Despite its intimidating length, The Bear and the Dragon offers interwoven storylines, eye-opening subplots, and lots of suspense, earning a place on our list. Still, better clear out your calendar before starting it. 

“The difference between genius and stupidity was that genius knew that it had limits.”

Tom Clancy, The Bear and the Dragon
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02/18/2024 03:26 pm GMT

9. The Cardinal of the Kremlin

The Cardinal of the Kremlin
Several of Clancy’s books were adapted into either movies, TV shows, or video games

The race to own space is the focus of Clancy’s The Cardinal of the Kremlin, as once again, we are taken back to the height of the Cold War. A series of pillars and domes appear overnight on the border between Afghanistan and the U.S.S.R., and Jack Ryan is sent to uncover the truth. 

The Soviets send their counterpart Colonel Mikhail Filitov, an old-line warrior. However, Filitov, codename Cardinal, is also the U.S.’ best asset in the Kremlin, and the KGB is about to get its revenge on him.

Immersive and captivating, The Cardinal of the Kremlin is perhaps one of the most beloved books in the Jack Ryan series. Tom Clancy goes deep into Soviet politics, sharing an immense amount of detail in what feels like a rollercoaster of events.

“Moral courage was more rare a commodity than the physical kind, a fact as true of the military profession as any other.”

Tom Clancy, The Cardinal of the Kremlin
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02/18/2024 03:31 pm GMT

10. The Sum of All Fears

The Sum of All Fears
Clancy never served in the armed forces due to his poor eyesight

The Sum of All Fears, which came out in 1991, starts with a stolen nuclear weapon. Jack Ryan, Deputy Director of Intelligence for the CIA, is close to securing peace in the Middle East. The missing bomb, hidden somewhere in the United States by hardline terrorists, may disrupt his plans, and the entire world is on the verge of nuclear disaster. 

The book has all the elements of an entertaining spy novel – well-developed characters, a dangerous, looming threat, and competing governments and agencies. All of Clancy’s books age superbly and can be relied upon to provide suspense. Intriguing and realistic, the book will have you rush to the closest bookstore in search of more Tom Clancy novels. 

“A nation achieves greatness by helping others to make peace, not by demonstrating prowess at war or commerce.”

Tom Clancy, The Sum of All Fear
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02/18/2024 04:11 pm GMT

11. Dead or Alive

Dead or Alive
Clancy received several awards during his career, including the Naval Institute’s Author of the Year Award in 1986

Dead or Alive follows the operatives of Campus, the secret intelligence agency created by President Jack Ryan to eliminate terrorists and their protectors. Shadowy and off the books, the agency does not answer to the American government. At its core are Jack Ryan Jr., John Clark, and Domingo Chavez. This time, they are up against an evil mastermind known as the Emir. 

Dead or Alive, written after a lengthy pause, throws the reader into the fray, following Ryan Junior’s missions around the globe. A great read, the book is brimming with no-nonsense action.

Clancy makes military operations and tech intelligible to the reader, often checking facts, scenarios, and technical aspects with experts as part of his research. Weapons, armor, and military vehicles or computers are always part of his stories and are integral to every plot.

“An overnight success is ten years in the making.”

Tom Clancy, Dead or Alive
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02/18/2024 04:21 pm GMT

12. Executive Orders

Executive Orders
Clancy was co-owner of the Baltimore Orioles from 1993

In Executive Orders, the U.S. is lost and leaderless, and all of its top political decision-makers are dead. Vice President Jack Ryan becomes acting President and is tasked with piecing America together. Abroad, China, Iran, and Russia are watching, some of them old, personal enemies of the new President. To test him, they devise a crisis that will shake the Ryan presidency.

Ryan, Clancy’s ultimate hero, has to deal with the media, China, Iran, and many more of America’s enemy states in this political thriller. The author takes his usual time in setting the stage for the first couple hundred pages, but his extensive descriptions of battles make it more than worthwhile. 

Absorbing and addictive, Executive Orders may just make you consider a career in politics. 

“Either you were a man of honor or you were not, and honor, some movie writer had once said, was a man’s gift to himself.”

Tom Clancy, Executive Orders
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02/18/2024 04:27 pm GMT

13. Red Rabbit

Red Rabbit
The book is rather divisive for Clancy’s fans

Jack Ryan is a teacher and ex-Marine living in England in Red Rabbit. CIA’s deputy director, Vice Admiral James Greer, takes an interest in him after his run-ins with the IRA. 

A U.S.S.R. plot to target Pope John Paul II is uncovered, and Ryan, still a novice, must prevent the Pope’s death.

Beloved or criticized by fans for his level of detail and the length of his books, Clancy nevertheless remains a master of the techno-thriller genre. In Red Rabbit, the author delves deep into the inner workings of the top intelligence agencies around the world. Thrilling and hard to put down, Red Rabbit is an entertaining spy novel.

“Courage is being the only one who knows how terrified you are.”

Tom Clancy, Red Rabbit
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02/18/2024 02:32 pm GMT

14. Against All Enemies

Against All Enemies
The book is the first in the Campus series

In Against All Enemies, Clancy introduces ex-Navy SEAL Max Moore, whose entire CIA team is wiped out at the beginning of the novel. To get revenge, Moore goes on the hunt for a terrorist cell in Pakistan. His search leads him to the border between the U.S. and Mexico, right in the middle of a drug war between the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels, who are allied with the Taliban. America’s enemies have joined together, and Moore and his special forces teammates have to stop them. 

Despite being co-written by Peter Taleb, Against All Enemies is true to the style and reminiscent of Clancy’s earlier works. The book offers readers a rapid tempo and a complex plot. Clancy’s trademark richness of technical detail is also present, along with his established grip on realism. 

“There are only two ways we can be beaten: we die or we give up. And we’re not giving up.”

Tom Clancy, Against All Enemies
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02/18/2024 04:32 pm GMT

15. Locked On

Locked On
Clancy unsuccessfully tried to buy the Minnesota Vikings in 1998

Locked On has a stellar lineup of Clancy’s usual heroes – Jack Ryan, his son Jack Ryan Jr., John Clark, Chavez, and the rest of the secret intelligence agency called Campus that Ryan founded as president. The book starts with Ryan Senior giving up the comforts of retirement and running for President again.

Locked On was one of Clancy’s last novels and co-authored with Mark Greaney, but it offers the same level of technical detail, realism, and excitement as any other of his classic works. 

A real page-turner, Locked On is another proof that Clancy remained the same sharp master of suspense up until his premature passing.

“Now she was learning another phenomenon about standing out. Nails that stuck out often were hammered back into place.”

Tom Clancy, Locked On
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02/18/2024 02:32 pm GMT


  • Radu has been writing for a decade as a copywriter, journalist, and academic writer. He was nominated for the European Press Prize in 2019 and authored a book on campaign finance and corporate personhood in the United States. Books are Radu’s passion, particularly science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and nonfiction. Check out his YouTube channel.