The Sum of All Fears

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The Sum of All Fears
First edition cover art
First edition cover art
Author Tom Clancy
Country United States
Language English
Series Jack Ryan universe
Genre Techno thriller
Publisher Putnam
Publication date
1991 (1st Edition)
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 798 pp (Hardback Edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-399-13615-0 (Hardback Edition) & ISBN 0-425-13354-0 (Paperback Edition)
OCLC 23287312
813/.54 20
LC Class PS3553.L245 S8 1991
Preceded by Clear and Present Danger
Followed by Debt of Honor

The Sum of All Fears is a best-selling thriller novel by Tom Clancy, and part of the Jack Ryan universe. It was the fourth of Clancy's "Jack Ryan" books to be turned into a film.

The book was released just days before the Moscow uprising in 1991, which signaled the dissolution of the Soviet Union.


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

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.

—Winston Churchill


During the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli Defense Force prepares for a tactical nuclear strike to stave off defeat. The necessity for the strike is averted, but a Mark 12 nuclear bomb is accidentally left on an Israeli 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 captain (coincidentally the brother of the downed Israeli pilot) shoots and kills a Palestinian activist during a 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 Jack Ryan, the U.S. enacts a plan to accelerate the peace process by converting Jerusalem into a Vatican-like independent polity to be administered by a tribunal of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian 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 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 Elliott 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, Elliott then engineers a smear campaign accusing Ryan of engaging in an extramarital affair. Jack's friends, John Clark and Domingo Chavez, convince Ryan's wife Cathy that the allegations are false. Ryan decides to resign, but not before he puts together a covert operation to uncover corrupt dealings between Japanese and Mexican government officials.

Meanwhile, a small group of 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 disenfranchised East German physicist Manfred Fromm, who agrees to the plot in order to exact revenge for his country's reunification as a capitalist democratic state. With Fromm's expertise, the terrorists are able to enhance the weapon and turn it into a thermonuclear device.

The terrorists agree to detonate the weapon during the Super Bowl in Denver, Colorado, 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 them for betraying World Socialism, while the Palestinians hope the attack will end American 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 used needed to be purified before use. 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 attacks in Berlin, the United States briefly assumes DEFCON-1 status as Fowler and Elliott prepare a nuclear assault. The crisis is averted when Ryan, after learning of the domestic origin for the bomb's plutonium, gains access to the Hot Line and communicates directly with the Soviet president, defusing the conflict.

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. President Fowler is subsequently forced from office following the process established in the U.S. Constitution after suffering a nervous breakdown.

The terrorists are beheaded in Riyadh by the commander of Saudi special forces using an ancient sword owned by the Saudi royal family. Later, the sword is presented to Ryan as a gift. In the sequels, the gift inspires Ryan's Secret Service codename of "Swordsman".

See also[edit]

  • Arc Light, a World War III scenario set post-cold war, where a strategic nuclear exchange between the Russia and the US is followed by a conventional World War III in the midst of a major US economic crash and a constitutional crises.
  • Red Storm Rising, a similar World War III scenario covering a conventional Soviet invasion of Western Europe, by Tom Clancy
  • The Third World War by Humphrey Hawksley depicts a slow building crises that culminates in a nightmarish World War III involving nuclear and biological weapons.
  • Trinity's Child by William Prochnau, portrays a sudden nuclear attack by the USSR upon the United States, followed by an eruption of global warfare.
  • Countdown to Looking Glass, a TV movie made in the form of a news broadcast following a deterioration in NATO-Warsaw Pact relations that ends in nuclear warfare.
  • The Day After, a 1983 made-for-TV movie about a NATO-Russian nuclear war.
  • Deterrence, a 1999 French-American movie about a Walter Emerson, about a man who's just become US President in the same manner as Gerald Ford, without having been elected. Emerson is on a campaign tour, trapped by a storm in a small town diner, when he gets word Iraq has invaded Kuwait a second time, and is poised to do the same to Saudi Arabia. With US troops committed in a separate engagement on the Korean peninsula, Emerson decides the only way to stop Iraq is to threaten to air-burst a 25 megaton nuclear weapon above Baghdad.
  • Fail Safe, a 2000 film about a computer malfunction at the NMCC in the 1960s giving false Emergency Action Messages to B-52 bombers to penetrate Soviet airspace and commence strategic nuclear strikes. The President, Joint Chiefs, US Strategic Air Command and national security council all try to stop the bombers by various means. They find it hard to get through to the bombers who have been trained to ignore recall signals that are not properly encoded, and at the same time, the Russians are not sure if this is deception warfare or a real malfunction.
  • Miracle Mile, a 1988 movie about an ordinary group of people, who learn, via a phone call from someone in an ICBM silo (who was trying to reach their father at the diner) that a nuclear exchange is about to take place, thus within the hour Soviet missiles will rain down on them. Some believe it and try to flee, others scramble around the city to find loved ones in a desperate attempt to join those already headed for the airport.
  • The Sum of All Fears, a 2002 movie based on the book.
  • Threads, a 1984 UK film about a major Soviet nuclear attack on the United Kingdom.
  • Special Bulletin, a 1983 made-for-TV movie about nuclear terrorism, shot in the same style of simulated news broadcasts
  • By Dawn's Early Light, a TV movie based on Trinity's Child.
  • Testament, a 1983 American film which tells the story of how one small suburban town near the San Francisco Bay Area slowly falls apart after a nuclear war destroys outside civilization.
  • When the Wind Blows, a 1986 animated British film that shows a nuclear attack on Britain by the Soviet Union from the viewpoint of a retired couple.
  • Able Archer 83, NATO command post exercise that resulted in the 1983 nuclear war scare and changed thinking about nuclear war in Britain.
  • Operation Square Leg, a military analysis of the effects of a nuclear war on Britain.
  • Protect and Survive, the 1970s British government information films on nuclear war.