Tom Clancy

In between bursts of gunfire, blaring submarine sirens, and the clack of spy gadgets, Tom Clancy, who died this week at age 66, often exposed himself as a little bit dreamy, a lot philosophical, and desperately in need of a thorough edit. Some of his attempts to wax philosophical are so comical that Amazon reviewers have taken to posting the choicest bits, like the reader who points out this gem from Netforce: "Lust reared its head inside Tyrone. At the same time, fear dried his mouth to a consistency roughly that of a pile of bones left to bleach in the Gobi desert sunshine."

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The easiest point to make about Tom Clancy, who died on Tuesday at the age of 66, is that he was a mediocre writer who penned books with noxious political messages. But he was more interesting than that, even if only as a totemic cultural figure. I haven't read any of his nonfictional output, which mostly deals with military matters, especially the physical details of American military hardware.

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The Beck Supremacy

When Vince Flynn recently finished writing his eleventh novel, Pursuit of Honor, he sent an advance copy to Rush Limbaugh, along with some special reading instructions. Upon arriving at Chapter 50, he told the radio host in a note inscribed on the chapter’s first page, “open one of your bottles of Lafite and grab a cigar and savor these words.” Flynn self-published his first political thriller twelve years ago but, today, has a seven-figure contract with an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

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The year is 2020. A young Muslim preacher has been proclaimed thenew caliph, attracting a worldwide following that includes thedaughter of an American senator. Civil wars and insurgencies ragethroughout the Muslim world and beyond. Muslim athletes at theOlympics declare loyalty to the caliphate over their own nations.Histories of previous caliphates soar on Amazon's best- sellerlist. A dystopian novel's potboiler plot? Not exactly. The scenario comesfrom a global trends estimate by the National Intelligence Council,a government advisory group.

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The Arrangements

The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter (Alfred A. Knopf, 672 pp., $26.95) But for the fact that he has written a novel, Stephen L. Carter is not a novelist. He is a professor of law at Yale who made his debut in 1991 with a lively and candid book called Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, a sober exploration of affirmative action and its effect on his life.

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