The Sum of All Fears

The Sum of All Fears is a political thriller novel, written by Tom Clancy and released on August 14, 1991. Serving as the sequel to Clear and Present Danger (1989), main character Jack Ryan, who is now the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, tries to stop a crisis concerning the Middle East peace process where Palestinian and former East German terrorists conspire to bring the United States and Soviet Union into nuclear war. It debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list.[1] A film adaptation, which is a reboot of the Jack Ryan film series and starring Ben Affleck as the younger iteration of the CIA analyst, was released on May 31, 2002.

The Sum of All Fears
First edition cover
AuthorTom Clancy
CountryUnited States
SeriesJack Ryan
PublisherG.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date
August 14, 1991
Media typePrint (Hardcover, Paperback)
Preceded byClear and Present Danger 
Followed byDebt of Honor 

Plot summary

During the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) prepares to conduct a tactical nuclear strike to stave off defeat. The necessity for the strike is averted, but an Israeli copy of a Mark 12 nuclear bomb is accidentally left on an A-4 Skyhawk attack aircraft, which is subsequently shot down over Syria. The nuclear weapon is lost, buried in the field of a Druze farmer. Eighteen years later, an Israeli police captain (coincidentally the brother of the downed pilot) shoots and kills a Palestinian activist during a peaceful public demonstration. The United States finds itself unable to diplomatically defend Israel, yet knows it cannot withdraw its support without risk of destabilizing the Middle East.

Following the advice of Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (DDCI) Jack Ryan, the U.S. enacts a plan to accelerate the peace process by converting Jerusalem into a Vatican-like independent state to be administered by a tribunal of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders, and secured by an independent contingent of the Swiss Guards. As a nod to Israel, the U.S. Army supplies the IDF with more sophisticated equipment and agrees to construct a training base in the Negev Desert run by the U.S. Army's tank warfare specialists. To everyone's surprise, Ryan's plan seems to work. With their religious contentions appeased, the factions in the Middle East find it much easier to negotiate their disputes.

However, National Security Advisor Elizabeth Elliot holds a grudge against Ryan and attempts to discredit him, exploiting her romance with the widowed President Robert Fowler to do so. With her encouragement, Fowler disavows Ryan's role in the peace settlement. Unsatisfied, Elliot then engineers a smear campaign accusing Ryan of engaging in an extramarital affair, fathering a child with a young widow. Jack's friends, agents John Clark and Domingo Chavez, convince Ryan's wife Cathy that the allegations are false (Jack's alleged mistress is Carol Zimmer, widow of Buck Zimmer, who was killed during Ryan and Clark's mission to rescue Chavez and army friends from Colombia in Clancy's preceding novel, Clear and Present Danger). Ryan later decides to retire from the CIA, but not before he puts together a covert operation to uncover corrupt dealings between Japanese and Mexican government officials.

Meanwhile, a small group of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorists, enraged at the looming failure of their crusade against Israel, come across the lost Israeli bomb and use it to construct their own weapon, using the bomb's plutonium as fissile material. The terrorists enlist the help of disaffected East German physicist Manfred Fromm, who agrees to the plot to exact revenge for his former communist country's reunification as a capitalist democratic state. With Fromm's expertise, the terrorists enhance the weapon and turn it into a thermonuclear device. The terrorists agree to detonate the weapon during the Super Bowl in Denver, Colorado, which is planned to coincide with a false flag attack on U.S. forces in Berlin by East Germans disguised as Soviet soldiers, aiming to begin a nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The East Germans hope that the war will eliminate both superpowers and punish the Soviets for betraying World Socialism, while the Palestinians hope the attack will destroy the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and end U.S. aid to Israel.

Thinking his work is done, the Palestinians kill Fromm. However, Fromm had not yet told them that some of the material he planned to use needed to be purified first. The Palestinians finish the bomb assembly and when it is used, the impure material causes the weapon to fizzle. However, almost everyone at the Super Bowl is killed, including the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and the commander of NORAD. With the corresponding attacks in Berlin, the United States briefly assumes DEFCON-1 status as Fowler and Elliott prepare for a nuclear war. The crisis is averted by Ryan, who learns of the domestic origin for the bomb's plutonium, gains access to the hot line, and convinces the Soviet President to stand down his country's military.

When the terrorists are captured and interrogated by Clark in Mexico City, they implicate the Iranian ayatollah in the attack. President Fowler orders the Ayatollah's residence in the holy city of Qom to be destroyed by a nuclear strike. After Ryan averts the attack by enforcing the two-man rule, Ryan lies and claims that Qom was destroyed. The terrorists then reveal that Iran was not involved, and that their deceit was meant to discredit the United States and destroy the peace process, allowing the campaign against Israel to continue. Elliot is hospitalized after suffering a nervous breakdown, while Fowler leaves office and is succeeded by his Vice President, Roger Durling (it is implied that Fowler was removed from office through the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, but a later novel clarifies that Fowler resigned in disgrace, while Elliott was forcibly removed).

The terrorists are executed by beheading in Riyadh by the commander of the Saudi Arabian special forces using an ancient sword owned by the royal family of Saudi Arabia. Later, the sword is presented to Ryan as a gift. In the sequels, the gift (combined with his origins as a Marine) inspires Ryan's Secret Service codename of "Swordsman".


The United States government

  • Jack Ryan: Deputy Director of Central Intelligence. Unappreciated by President Fowler, he later decides to retire from the agency in order to overcome his drinking problem and spend more time with his family.
  • J. Robert Fowler: President of the United States. After the crisis on the Denver bombing, during which his decision-making deteriorates rapidly, he was removed from office and succeeded by his Vice President, Roger Durling. According to an audio commentary in the DVD release of the film adaptation, Clancy has said that he based Fowler on 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, further explaining that left-wing politicians are more likely to use nuclear weapons than right-wing ones.
  • Elizabeth Elliot: National Security Advisor to President Fowler, and his lover. Holding a grudge on Ryan from their first encounter (depicted in previous novel Clear and Present Danger), she denies him credit for the Middle East peace plan and later outs him as having a mistress, nearly breaking up his marriage. During the crisis, her advice worsens the situation and she was later placed under sedation.
  • Arnold "Arnie" van Damm: Chief of Staff to President Fowler.
  • John Clark: Ryan's personal driver and bodyguard, sometime CIA operative
  • Domingo “Ding” Chavez: Clark's partner as Ryan's bodyguard, CIA field operative
  • Dan Murray: Deputy assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Marcus Cabot: Director of Central Intelligence
  • Ben Goodley: Ryan's assistant and protégé. A postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, he became noticed by the White House and the CIA for his analysis of the Cuban missile crisis. Initially manipulated by Elliot into providing classified information on Ryan, which she would later use to discredit him, Ryan's successful handling of the crisis makes Goodley rethink his opinion on his boss.
  • Inspector Sean Patrick "Pat" O’Day: FBI agent who is Murray's second-in-command
  • Dr. Charles Alden: The first National Security Advisor to President Fowler. Alden is a brilliant tactician but has a tendency to have affairs. Alden dies of a stroke after his affair with a student is discovered. Alden is replaced by Elliot.

The United States military

The Soviet Union

  • Andrey Narmonov: General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
  • Sergey Golovko: First Deputy Chairman of the Committee for State Security (KGB)
  • Oleg Kirilovich Kadishev: Leader of the opposition party in the Congress of People's Deputies of the Soviet Union and CIA agent (codename SPINNAKER). He unfortunately reinforces a narrative that Narmonov has no control of the Soviet military, which later convinces Fowler and Elliot that the Soviet president may have been a victim of a coup d'etat, progressively worsening their judgment of the crisis surrounding the Denver bombing until Ryan steps in.
  • Oleg Yurevich Lyalin: A KGB illegal based in Japan who has a well-developed network of agents codenamed THISTLE. He uncovers the Japanese prime minister's corrupt dealings with the Mexicans over trade agreements and offers his services to the CIA, which accepts him (codename MUSHASHI). Based on his intelligence, Ryan launches Operation NIITAKA, which later becomes instrumental in blackmailing the Mexican president into allowing the arrest of Qati and Ghosn in Mexico City after the Denver bombing. Unfortunately, he was caught by the Soviets and charged with treason, but Ryan pleads with Golovko to free Lyalin since he did not reveal Soviet state secrets.
  • Valentin Borissovich Dubinin: Captain First Rank of the Soviet Navy and commanding officer of the Akula-class submarine Admiral Lunin.

Other characters

  • Ismael Qati: Palestinian terrorist and mastermind of the bomb plot. An experienced field commander for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), he is suffering from terminal cancer, which drives him to carry out his mission. After being captured by Clark in Mexico City, he was later executed in Saudi Arabia.
  • Ibrahim Ghosn: Palestinian terrorist and one of PFLP's experts on explosives and electronics. Allied with Qati, he is also executed along with him in Saudi Arabia.
  • Günther Bock: German terrorist and ally of Qati and Ghosn. A former Red Army Faction member, the collapse of Marxism, coupled with the death of his wife and fellow terrorist Petra Hassler-Bock as well as the loss of their children, motivates him to trigger a nuclear war with the U.S. and Russia by arranging a false-flag attack on American and Soviet forces in Berlin. Later killed during the battle and was identified by the German police.
  • Marvin Russell: Professional criminal, drug dealer, and activist for the American Indian Movement as a Sioux Indian. Later helps Qati and Ghosn enter the United States with the bomb as revenge for his brother John's death in a televised hostage rescue by the FBI. Deemed as a security risk, he was murdered by the two Palestinian terrorists in a Denver motel on the day of the nuclear detonation, but their sloppy work allows the FBI to ascertain the circumstances behind the bomb.
  • Dr. Manfred Fromm: German engineer and terrorist who is recruited by Bock to assist in rebuilding and improving the captured Israeli nuclear weapon. Later executed by Bock's men after his services were complete, unaware that Dr. Fromm was not yet quite finished with the bomb.
  • Prince Ali bin-Sheik: Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
  • General Abraham "Avi" Ben Jakob: Assistant director of the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence agency
  • Bob Holtzman: Senior White House correspondent for The Washington Post who is being used by Elliot to discreetly out Ryan as being suspected of financial and marital improprieties. After being confronted by Clark, he works to expose Elliot's part in the whole affair.
  • Cathy Ryan: Ophthalmic surgeon at the Wilmer Eye Institute, which is part of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Jack Ryan's wife who desperately wants a third child but was blindsided by her husband's alcoholism and work. Later becomes troubled with reports of her husband having a mistress, but is talked down by Clark and Chavez. She then proceeds to publicly embarrass Elliot, who is her former professor at Bennington College, at a White House dinner. She becomes pregnant with Katie by the end of the novel.
  • Carol Zimmer: Widow of Sergeant Buck Zimmer (detailed in Clear and Present Danger). Ryan helps her and her family through an educational trust fund as well as setting up a convenience store to supplement her family income. This was misinterpreted by Elliot as indication that Zimmer is Ryan's mistress.
  • Captain Benjamin "Benny" Zadin: Israeli police officer in command in a demonstration at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Embittered by his personal problems, he kills an unarmed demonstrator there. Coincidentally the brother of Mordecai "Mutti" Zadin, an Israeli Air Force pilot who was shot down by Syrian surface-to-air missiles during the Yom Kippur War, unaware that he was carrying a nuclear weapon.


Written under the working title The Field of Camlan, which was based on King Arthur's final battle, The Sum of All Fears explores nuclear fears that humans endured during the Cold War, with Clancy warning that complacency regarding such threats is dangerous. Published months after the first Gulf War, Clancy also envisioned a fictional “next great step” toward lasting peace in the Middle East. The book was said to be inspired by the 1977 thriller film Black Sunday, which depicts a blimp being used as a weapon to blow up on a football stadium during the Super Bowl; the movie was referenced three times.

The novel also explores the danger of "electing someone who covets power for all the wrong reasons and who is totally inept at managing it", according to Marc Cerasini's essay on the book. President Fowler and Elliot were compared to Bill and Hillary Clinton.[2]


The title is a reference to nuclear war and to the plot by the novel's antagonists to reconstruct a lost nuclear weapon. It comes from a Winston Churchill quote serving as the first of the novel's two epigraphs:

The title also makes a subtle but clever reference to Jerusalem, where much of the action takes place. The word "fear" also refers to religious beliefs, and Jerusalem is a city important to three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), hence Jerusalem itself is the sum of several "fears."

Jerusalem background

The Vatican-like solution for Jerusalem, which was implemented in the book, is ultimately derived from the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, which indeed provided for making Jerusalem such a "Corpus separatum" (Latin for "separated body"). The course which the 1948 Palestine war took prevented implementation of this plan. In later years, various peace plans and diplomatic initiatives sought to revive the idea, but in reality it has never come close to implementation. The plan is known for being popular outside the Middle East, but unpopular among the actual residents of Jerusalem, who would prefer that their "side" should rule entirely rather than submit to a neutral administration.

Rainbow Six reference

A database file with certain limited details about John Clark is included as background information within the first Rainbow Six game, and moreover, the same database entry is also found in many of the sequels. That entry mentions in passing that “the Denver, Colorado atomic detonation [occurred] in 1989”. That information might not be canonical, since the book is set after both the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 9, 1989) and possibly the First Persian Gulf War (January-February 1991). If it is canonical, though, this means that the book is not set in the same year it was published. A second inference is that 1989 was likely the year in which President Fowler’s administration ended.


Clancy started working on the novel in 1979, setting the first chapter during the Yom Kippur War. Then he abandoned his idea for other novels until he wrote The Cardinal of the Kremlin (1988), where Ryan first meets Russian premier Narmonov. After figuring out the resolution to The Sum of All Fears, Clancy then used his next novel Clear and Present Danger (1989) as a way to introduce future President Fowler. Speaking of the consistency, Clancy said: "The whole series really is a logical and connected network of plot lines which would continue to diverge and converge throughout the body of the work."[3] The novel was notable for detailing the process in making a bomb; however, certain technical details were altered, and Clancy made clear in the novel's afterword that a lot of information in his book can be found in the public domain.[4]

Whilst the Israelians used both the A-4 single-seat single-engine subsonic light attack jet and F-4 two-seat twin-engined all-weather supersonic fighter-bomber during the Yom Kippur War, use of the A-4's nuclear capability was never envisaged. Nuclear warheads were assembled at the Tel Nof Airbase, but for deployment on F-4 rather than A-4 as told in the novel. This was done on October 8 in such a way that the USA got to know of it by the next morning, prompting President Nixon to initiate the same day an immediate air-lifted re-supply to Israel of conventional arms, including tanks and planes to replace losses, in Operation Nickel Grass. Whether any of these nuclear bombs were actually carried during a sortie has never been documented.

At least one real-world buried nuclear warhead has actually been documented however, but American and in the USA, rather than Israelian in Syria. The plutonium pit of a Mark 39 nuclear bomb warhead remains buried 33m deep in a North Carolina field, now fenced-off, following the fatal 1961 Goldsboro B-52 crash. Many B-52 Stratofortresses crashed whilst carrying live nuclear warheads on training flights, mostly inside the USA, between 1961 and 1968, but many have been recovered.


The book received positive reviews. Publishers Weekly praised the novel as "a nonstop roller-coaster ride to a nail-biting finish", adding: "Fundamentally, Clancy is writing about a vital and elusive quality: grace under pressure. Whether terrorists or statesmen, Clancy's characters face a common challenge--situations that break down pretensions of rank, power and ideology. Their responses, carefully and empathetically constructed, make this book compelling instead of merely ingenious."[5] Kirkus Reviews hailed it as "hair-raising" and "quite a rouser".[6]

Film adaptation

The book was adapted as a feature film, which was released on May 31, 2002. Jack Ryan was played by Ben Affleck while John Clark was played by Liev Schreiber; additionally, CIA director Marcus Cabot, whose first name was changed into William, was played by Morgan Freeman. The film is a reboot that departs from all previous Ryan films, and as a result, there were significant changes from the book, such as the antagonists being neo-Nazis instead of Palestinian terrorists, Ryan becoming a low-level CIA analyst, and the time period changed to 2002. Clancy served as executive producer on the film, and regarding the changes from his book, jokingly introduced himself in the commentary track on the DVD release as “the author of the book that he [director Phil Alden Robinson, who is present with Clancy] ignored”. Nevertheless, he complained about technical inaccuracies throughout the film in the commentary.[7]

The Sum of All Fears was a major financial success, grossing a total of $193 million in box office.[8] However, it received mixed reviews from critics; Rotten Tomatoes reported that 59% of critics gave the film positive reviews and that the average rating was 6/10 based on a total of 171 reviews counted.[9]

In turn, the film had its video game adaptation, which is a tactical first-person shooter game that is similar to the Rainbow Six series of games. It was developed by Red Storm Entertainment and released by Ubisoft in 2002.


  1. "The New York Times bestseller list for August 25, 1991" (PDF). Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  2. Greenberg, Martin H. The Tom Clancy Companion (Revised ed.). pp. 23–28.
  3. The Tom Clancy Companion. p. 55.
  4. The Sum of All Fears.
  5. "Fiction Book Review: The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  6. "THE SUM OF ALL FEARS by Tom Clancy". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  7. Conrad, Jeremy. "The Sum of All Fears". IGN. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  8. "The Sum of All Fears (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  9. "The Sum of All Fears (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
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