Skip to navigationSkip to content

Reagan to Thatcher: Read a Tom Clancy thriller to understand the Soviet Union

Reuters/STR New
So, what did you think of the book?
By Aamna Mohdin
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

How do two Western leaders prepare for a summit on arms control with the USSR at the height of the Cold War? Read an airport thriller, obviously.

In the run up to a crucial meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev—the last leader of the Soviet Union— in 1986 to thaw relations, US president Ronald Reagan told British prime minister Margaret Thatcher to read Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy. The novel is about a fictional third World War in the mid-1980s, where NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries fight each other with conventional weapons.

The memo.

The National Archives released a series of files from Thatcher’s office today (Dec. 30), which span the years 1986 to 1988. The files include an account of a phone conversation between Reagan and Thatcher, where Reagan “strongly commended” the thriller novel to better understand the strategy and tactics of the Soviet Union ahead of the nuclear-disarmament talks in Iceland.

Thatcher’s private secretary detailed the conversation in a memo, which states:

The President strongly commended to the Prime Minister a new book by the author of ‘Red October’ called (I think) ‘Red Storm Rising’. It gave an excellent picture of the Soviet Union’s intentions and strategy. He had clearly been much impressed by the book.

The novel may not have been that useful in the end. The Reykjavik summit was considered a failure, with Gorbachev and Reagan unable to agree on a disarmament deal.

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.