Unlike Stephen King's blockbusters, the best sellers churned out by Tom Clancy always seem as though they are written for readers who would otherwise head for the beach with the newest edition of a Jane's defense manual nestled alongside their sunblock. Only in a Clancy opus are M1A2 battle tanks, F-16 planes and C-5B Galaxy transports sprinkled through the text more liberally than punctuation.

And yet despite these economical acronyms for the weaponry and technogadgetry with which he is so obsessed, Clancy cannot seem to turn in a novel that weighs less than a laptop. At 4 lbs. and 874 pages,...

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