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Literature / The Sum of All Fears

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"Why, you may take the most gallant sailor, the most intrepid airman or the most audacious soldier, put them at a table together - what do you get? The sum of their fears."
— The book's preface, quoting Winston Churchill.

The Sum of All Fears is the fifth Ryanverse book written by Tom Clancy. It was published in 1991, just days before the Moscow uprising, and takes place at roughly the same time, being the seventh book chronologically. Russian politics in the aftermath of the destruction of the Berlin Wall is a main element of the book.

The title is based on an anecdote recounted in the foreword: when you get a group of already hostile people together, their fears are amplified, to the point where the slightest misstep can set them on a course for war.

The story actually begins in 1973, during the Yom Kippur War. Israel, in its darkest hour, contemplates releasing its nuclear weapons against the Egyptian and Syrian armies, but rescinds the order once things turn for the better. However, in the chaos of battle, one of the fighters carries a nuclear bomb into battle and gets shot down, loosing its warhead into the countryside where it disappears.


Three years after the drug interdiction fiasco in Columbia, Jack Ryan is now the Deputy Director of the CIA, but is essentially the de-facto Director of Central Intelligence. He constantly bickers with the administration, especially the National Security Advisor Elizabeth Elliot. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union is falling apart, which no one is entirely happy about, and a new crisis erupts in Israel.

The book follows several factions, from Ryan and the CIA, to Andrey Narmonov, now the President of the Soviet Union, to Ismael Qati, a terrorist leader who discovers the missing nuclear bomb from the Yom Kippur War and is determined to use it to achieve his means.

It was the fourth book of the series to be turned into a film.


The book contains the following tropes:

  • A-Cup Angst: When Cathy suspects that Jack may be cheating on her, she begins to feel insecure about her physical appearance. While examining herself in the mirror she notes that, while she is slender and pretty, she does have small breasts.
  • All for Nothing: It's revealed in The Teeth of the Tiger that all the effort to end the Israeli-Arab conflict will, once again, be nothing as the Jerusalem Treaty later falls apart.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Two examples, National Security Advisor Elizabeth Elliot attempts to ruin Ryan's career in order to make the CIA her puppet. Capt. Harry Ricks is a Bad Boss whose insistence that his crew follow his directions to the letter ends up destroying his boat.
  • And Some Other Stuff: In the afterword, Clancy admits to fudging "some" details of the workings and construction of nuclear weapons, in an effort to not help anyone with unkind intentions involving nukes (though he also acknowledges, if somewhat cynically, it probably won't actually stop anything).
  • Apocalypse How: The US and USSR come within seconds of all-out nuclear war.
  • Asian Store-Owner: Mrs. Zimmer.
  • Asshole Victim: Marvin Russell gets murdered by Qati and Ghosn once they finish planting the bomb.
  • Authentication by Newspaper: The wife of one of the engineers working on the bomb is killed, to keep her from telling where her husband is. To prove that she's dead, they make a videotape of the execution, with a news program on the TV in the corner acting as a time stamp.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: The terrorists impersonate TV network service personnel to get their bomb (disguised as a commercial VCR) into the Denver Skydome. Later, their German terrorist accomplices get onto a Soviet army base in East Germany by donning Soviet officer uniforms, and pretending to be there for a surprise inspection.
  • Body Motifs: A rather odd one, given the book's subject. If a female character pops up at any point, her naked breasts will be described or referenced.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Played almost entirely straight (he just barely manages not to need them) when the explosives specialist in the terror cell realises that the mysterious object found in a farmer's field is not in fact an electronic-jamming pod as he'd first thought, having established that it's not a conventional bomb, but is actually a nuclear warhead (that he had just spent the last few hours hammering). Understandably, this is not in any way Played for Laughs.
  • Call-Back: Jack is followed by reporters to a home where the mother and children greet him warmly. They accuse him of having a Secret Other Family. In truth, it's the family of one of the soldiers killed all the way back in Clear and Present Danger, and Jack is honoring his promise to help the man's children.
  • Cassandra Truth: What Jack Ryan spends most of the novel spouting. He is ignored mainly because of Liz Elliott's personal dislike for him and her undue influence on Bob Fowler. Despite being proven right time and time again, it takes him literally intervening in the Hotline to avert the ultimate crisis.
  • Chekhov's Gun: You didn't think he spent all that time talking about those logs for nothing, did you?
  • Death Equals Redemption: While not exactly a villain in this case, Harry Ricks apologizes to his XO for the way he commanded USS Maine shortly before they're hit by one of Admiral Lunin's torpedoes. Thankfully, it ends better for most of the rest of the crew.
  • Defcon Five: Averted. After the nuclear bomb goes off in Denver, President Fowler orders the military to DEFCON 2, and then to DEFCON 1 after the attack on US troops in West Germany.
  • Defrosting the Ice Queen: Bob Fowler and Liz Elliot do this to each other, but only for each other.
  • Did the Earth Move for You, Too?: A throwaway joke made when the terrorists are digging up an unexploded nuclear bomb.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • A sizable portion of the novel consists of Elliot trying to ruin Ryan's career and marriage because he objected to her bad manners in Clear and Present Danger. It makes more sense when you figure out that she's a petty, vindictive bitch.
    • Qati's motivation for trying to spark a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia is that he's angry the U.S. helped end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Ayatollah Mahmoud Haji Daryaei has a small appearance at the end of the book. He would later be the main antagonist in Executive Orders.
  • Empty Quiver: Forms the basis of the plot, with a nuclear weapon lost during the 1973 Arab–Israeli War.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Petra and Gunther Bock are unrepentant Western Terrorists, but they genuinely loved each other and their two daughters.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Marvin Russell is under the impression that he, Qati, and Ghosn are planting a very large conventional bomb at the Super Bowl rather than a nuclear warhead. When the idea of nukes comes up, Marvin mentions that he's glad they're not using one because that would cause too much destruction for his tastes. This is a big part of why Qati and Ghosn murder him after they've planted the bomb.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Gunther Bock genuinely cannot understand why the East Germans overthrew their "perfect socialist state" to reunite with the evil, capitalist West.
  • Expy: Bob Fowler and Elizabeth Elliot make a good Ahab And Jezebel allegory. On his own, when he listens to competent advice and doesn't have a Poisonous Friend whispering in his ear, he's still somewhat arrogant and out of his depth, but can be a halfway decent Reasonable Authority Figure. Unfortunately, Elliot does her best to corrupt him into being as venal, paranoid, and selfish as she is, and his nobler qualities greatly suffer as a result.
  • False Flag Operation: The terrorists' plan in the event of their capture is to implicate another country for the Denver bombing, to cause the expected revenge bombing by the US to cause a massive uprising by the Arab world. On top of that, their original plan was to convince the US that the Soviet Union nuked Denver in hopes of causing a war that would destroy both countries.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional:
What Nixon and Kissinger had failed to do, what had defied the valiant efforts of Carter, the halfhearted attempts of Reagan, and the wellmeaning gambits of Bush and his own predecessor, what all had failed to do, Bob Fowler would accomplish.
  • Fingore: John Clark interrogates a pair of Arab terrorists and breaks their fingers to get information to help track down those responsible for their attack. The terrorists promptly finger a non-guilty party.
  • Former Regime Personnel: The False Flag Operation that was part of the terrorists' plans to get the US and the Soviet Union fighting one another was assisted by several former agents of the East German Stasi, who also arranged for the technical expert to work on the nuclear bomb they had acquired.
  • General Ripper: Deconstructed with acting chief of NORAD and the CINC-SAC. They both get really into countering the perceived Soviet aggression after the Denver attack, but they also come to realize just how bad things have gotten and try to calm down President Fowler. It doesn't work.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Averted when Ryan's drinking and stress fatigue nearly destroy his sex life (and marriage).
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: The novel was written prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, but set chronologically afterwards. Oops. Though Narmonov is pretty clearly written as a Gorbachev expy. It isn't so much a matter of assuming that the USSR would continue, but not being able to predict exactly how it would fall apart.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Ryan experiences a drawn-out, stress-induced breakdown - one of the few times in the series that he has not been up to the task at hand. This is due to finding himself working for a hostile administration without much in the way of support.
    • At the very end of the novel, after stopping Fowler from launching a nuclear strike on Iran, Ryan decides to leave government service basically immediately. It isn't until Debt of Honor, years later, that he recovers.
    • Despair Event Horizon: Fowler, after discovering that he had very nearly ordered a nuclear strike on an innocent city, realizes that he has lost the moral right to govern the United States, and resigns in disgrace, leaving Roger Durling to succeed him as President.
  • Hidden Depths: In a somewhat dark example, President Fowler muses early in the book that he doesn't have it in him to give the order to use nuclear weapons and is glad he lives in a world where this kind of action is no longer necessary. After the Denver attack and he learns the "truth" that Iran was behind it, his knee-jerk reaction is to order a nuclear strike on the city where the Ayatollah lives.
  • Hotline: Played realistically in that instead of the stereotypical "red phone" with national leaders directly conversing, it's a teletype connection with translators on both ends. Using this form of communication causes the U.S. and the Soviet Union to edge closer to nuclear war because the U.S. President, after hearing reports of a possible coup d'état in the Soviet Union, believes he's talking to someone other than the Soviet Premier.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Deconstructed. Since DCI Cabot is an incompetent, lazy asshole, Ryan has to run the CIA by himself. The stress of having to do so and deal with a hostile presidential administration puts him on a path to a nervous breakdown which is only prevented, accidentally, by President Fowler asking for his resignation.
    • John Clark and Domingo Chavez qualify as well: with the CIA being downsized, Jack has both of them moved to the Diplomatic Protection Service to serve as his personal bodyguards, and to keep them in government service so their obvious skills won't go to waste. Clark takes it upon himself to help Jack stave off a nervous breakdown, and both of them also help save Jack's marriage (without his knowledge) by giving some classified information to Cathy Ryan. In recompense, Jack gets them in on an actual espionage mission (bugging the plane of the President of Japan, on his trip from Mexico to the US), which inadvertently gets them in a prime position to capture Qati.
  • It's for a Book: While doing the research for the novel, Clancy was able to get the specifications for all the machinery needed to build a nuclear bomb delivered to his doorstep. He then pointed out in his author's notes that it's all commercially available within the U.S.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: John Clark uses this; also a case of Mutilation Interrogation by way of Fingore. It fails in that the badguys were planning all along to lie under interrogation to falsely implicate Iran in their bomb plot.
  • Jerkass: Harry Ricks, newly minted commander of USS Maine, is a hardcase engineer with a bad case of Miles Gloriosus when it comes to actual command. His subordinate tries to rein him in, only to be accused of disloyalty. His superior officer then tries to gently break the news of his poor leadership to him, and instead gets backtalk and disdain.
    • Elizabeth Elliot, Fowler's National Security Adviser, is worse, attempting to ruin Ryan's life on the basis of a petty vendetta and driving Fowler to the brink of nuclear war through sheer paranoia.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: President Fowler. He's a jerk towards Ryan from the get-go, but he's also an honest politician who despises corruption, hates child exploitation, and values his underlings. Even when he's putting Ryan out to pasture, Fowler is willing to give him a glowing send off out of respect for his meritorious service.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: The German police detective handling Petra Bock's case deliberately drives her to suicide.
  • Life Imitates Art: It's mentioned that local wags near the Strategic Air Command HQ joked that the relatively new (at the time) Command Center was made so that the actual place matched up with the common Hollywood depictions of the facility, which were better than the original structure. invoked
  • Manly Tears: When Captain Rosselli relinquishes command of USS Maine, his final act is to tour the ship and say good-bye to his men. By the end, he's openly crying. Admiral Mancuso is understanding, while Captain Ricks is disdainful and only cares about the condition of the sub's equipment.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: A stressed-out Jack withdraws from Cathy, leading her to believe that he's having an affair. Add to that a mishap with a perfume bottle, and a news leak by vindictive bitch Elizabeth Elliot about "a senior intelligence official"...
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Both Fowler and Elliot go into full BSOD mode when they realize how close they came to starting World War III. Fowler resigns his presidency immediately afterwards. Elliot, on the other hand, collapses into paranoic rambling and suffers a mental break, ultimately requiring hospitalization, and later books make it clear she never fully recovers.
  • Narrative Filigree: Chapter 35, 'Three Shakes', consists of several pages covering microseconds, describing the nuclear weapon's detonation step-by-step.
  • The Neidermeyer: Captain Harry Ricks is a combination of this and Drill Sergeant Nasty. He's constantly yelling at his crew for not living up to his standards, bullying them for minor infractions, and demanding perfection one hundred percent of the time. All for the goal of one day becoming the Chief of Naval Operations or Naval Reactors. His superior, far more reasonable Admiral Mancuso, realizes this and is prepared to ensure Ricks never gets beyond the rank of Captain. It doesn't matter since Ricks dies when USS Maine is sunk, though not before apologizing to his XO for being an ass
  • Not So Different: It's pointed out a few times that Fowler and Ryan share many characteristics and traits, notably their honesty and integrity. However, because Fowler's main focus was on domestic issues (as opposed to Ryan being a foreign specialist), and due to him getting off on the wrong foot with both Fowler and Elliot, they end up personally butting heads throughout the whole novel.
  • Oh, Crap!: Just about everyone has this reaction when they're informed that there's been a nuclear explosion in Denver.
  • Oh No You Didn't!: When Admiral Mancuso is gently and patiently trying to tell Captain Ricks that his micromanaging, authoritarian leadership style is simply not working and is killing morale on his boat, Ricks brusquely throws it back in his face and says his career has been one of continual progression and he's not changingnote . Ricks instantly realizes he'd gone too far and tried to soften his comment, but the flash of anger that crossed Mancuso's face let him know it was too late. Mancuso reflected internally that one of his older relatives had been a Mafia Godfather on Sicily during the early part of the 20th century, and that man would have blown a hole in Ricks for being so insolent. Mancuso knew he couldn't do that, but he could make certain Ricks was never promoted again.
  • Open Secret: The White House staff and press are easily able to tell that President Fowler and Liz Elliot are sleeping together. The press reasons that so long as the personal relationship doesn't harm the professional one, they'll keep it to themselves. It comes back to bite the entire world in the ass when it does become a problem at the worst possible time.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • President Fowler and Liz Elliot's relationship demonstrates that, while they are assholes to Ryan, very deep down they are good people.
    • Subverted when Elliot makes sure her disgraced predecessor gets his deserved credit for bringing about the Jerusalem Treaty. The only reason she does so is to screw Ryan out of getting any recognition for all the work he did behind the scenes.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Marcus Cabot, Ryan's direct superior, is portrayed as a lazy boss who does nothing noteworthy but to cause trouble for Jack. Due to his general incompetence, Ryan is essentially the one who runs the CIA.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Many of the problems surrounding the response to the nuclear attack on Denver are a result of this.
    • Information from ground zero which proves that the yield was far below what NORAD estimated, and thereby couldn't have been Russian, almost doesn't reach those in the need to know because President Fowler ordered Denver to undergo a communications blackout to prevent a national panic.
    • Ryan's inability to keep his cool results in Fowler cutting the CIA out of the loop. Shortly thereafter Ryan gets information that proves the Russians weren't involved in the attack but now the U.S. President will no longer listen to him.
  • Prevent the War: The villains are attempting to provoke a war between the USA and the Russians by detonating a nuclear bomb at the Super Bowl, and by instigating another attack; in the book, East Germans disguised as Russian commanders get the Russian tanks to fire at the American tanks near Berlin, in the movie, a well-bribed Russian air force general instructs his air wing to attack a US aircraft carrier. Jack Ryan and John Clark have to find out what really happened before one side starts nuking the other.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Played straight with President Fowler for most of the novel, but then subverted after the nuclear attack on Denver. A combination of Elliot's paranoia, his drinking, and his mistrust of the CIA in general and Ryan in particular compromises his judgment and hence his responses to the crisis.
    • Vice President Durling plays this straight for the entire novel.
    • Secretary of Defense Dennis Bunker is explicitly identified as one of the most reasonable members of the Fowler administration, respected by both generals and grunts. Pity he dies at the Super Bowl.
  • Retired Bad Ass: Though not technically retired: due to the downsizing of the CIA under Fowler, Ryan had to pull some strings to have Clark and Chavez transferred to the Domestic Protection Service as his bodyguards. They both excel in the role, but all three recognize that it's a holding pattern until they're able to get back into the Operations Directorate, possibly under a new President. They do get into actual spy operations at the end of the novel, which helps them get into place to capture the terrorists when they try to escape.
  • Rich Bitch: Elizabeth Elliot, made worse because of her relationship with President Fowler. She becomes his most trusted advisor but her paranoid insecurity causes her to lead him to the brink of nuclear war. She has a full on breakdown afterwards.
  • Shout-Out: Black Sunday is mentioned with the terrorist attack on the Super Bowl.
  • Technology Marches On: To be expected from a novel based nominally in reality. Notably, the high-tech method used to bug an airplane, shown to take several hours, is now used in many noise-canceling headsets that cost less than 50 US Dollars.
  • Torture Is Ineffective: The terrorists who nuked the Super Bowl are captured by Clark and Chavez. Clark uses some Fingore on them to get information on their backer, and after holding out for a while, the terrorists finger the nation of Iran. The catch is that they had planned this as an attempted Xanatos Gambit: if the US does retaliate against Iran, they will have "made an enemy out of all Islam".
  • Trust Password: Used in a way, when Ryan gets on the text-based Hotline with the the Russian President, Andrey Ilyavich Narmonov. Ryan asks him if he still makes his own fires in the dacha, a Call-Back to their in-person meeting in Russia in The Cardinal of the Kremlin. Narmonov responds by asking him questions about the incident that only Ryan would know.
  • Twenty-Fifth Amendment: Roger Durling's final scene is him getting comfortable in the Oval Office with Arnie Van Damm addressing him as 'Mr. President'. It's heavily implied, and later confirmed in subsequent novels, that Fowler resigned from the presidency after having a mental breakdown.
  • Vice-President Who?: Discussed. Roger Durling, after delivering the state of California during the election, is relegated to backwater assignments away from the limelight. The sad part is Durling is a much nicer and more reasonable man than President Bob Fowler. It's what makes him a pretty good successor when Fowler resigns.
  • Villainous Friendship: Gunther Bock, German Marxist, is friends with Ismael Qati, Palestinian terrorist leader. Qati even slept with Bock's wife without Gunther minding. Also Ghosn forms a friendship with Marvin Russell and regrets having to kill him to cover their tracks. Qati, on the other hand, doesn't care as Marvin was a "heathen".
  • Western Terrorists:
    • The Warrior Society, a group of Native Americans terrorists who had gotten into dealing drugs to fund their activities.
    • Petra and Gunther Bock were members of various Marxist terrorist groups operating in West Germany, such as the Red Army Faction.
  • Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Lampshaded by various characters, who find it hard to do this over the sweeping political changes that drive the conflicts of the book.
  • Woman Scorned: Liz Elliot holds a personal grudge against Ryan from their first meeting in Clear and Present Danger, abusing her powers to get back at him and try to destroy his marriage.
    • This gets extended later to Cathy Ryan, who, after discovering that the circumstantial evidence of her cheating husband was actually him keeping his promise to take care of Buck Zimmer's family, turns around to publicly humiliate Elliot at a party.
  • Xanatos Gambit: The terrorists' plan has multiple outcomes, all of which work to their benefit. If U.S. blames the Soviet Union for the nuke, it's World War III. If not, they've still killed a lot of people. If they get away, great; if not, they've got a False Flag Operation set up to implicate Iran.
    • Even their reason for implicating Iran is an example: Iran had nothing to do with their attack, but if they can convince the US to launch a nuke at the Iranian capital, the US will become an enemy of every Muslim nation in the world, and their attempts at peace in the Middle East will be ruined.
  • You Are in Command Now: Happens quite a bit as a result of the Denver attack.
    • CINC-NORAD was killed in the attack leaving his two-star subordinate in charge.
    • Ryan, Dan Murray, and Captain Rosselli are the most senior officers present at their respective agencies, leaving them to advise President Fowler.
    • Roger Durling becomes president after Fowler has a mental breakdown and resigns.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • Subverted. The nuclear scientist hadn't actually finished his work on the bomb yet. Because of that, its effect is significantly lessened, and provides the vital clue that keeps the US from launching its arsenal at Russia.
    • Played straight with the terrorists' U.S. accomplice, whom they murder once their device is planted.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Qati, the leader of the terrorist group, is dying of cancer. He views their plot as his last chance to strike a devastating blow against America. His cancer meds are a Chekhov's Gun that clue Clark into seeing through the False Flag Operation.


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