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Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War

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John Boyd may be the most remarkable unsung hero in all of American military history. Some remember him as the greatest U.S. fighter pilot ever -- the man who, in simulated air-to-air combat, defeated every challenger in less than forty seconds. Some recall him as the father of our country's most legendary fighter aircraft -- the F-15 and F-16. Still others think of Boyd a John Boyd may be the most remarkable unsung hero in all of American military history. Some remember him as the greatest U.S. fighter pilot ever -- the man who, in simulated air-to-air combat, defeated every challenger in less than forty seconds. Some recall him as the father of our country's most legendary fighter aircraft -- the F-15 and F-16. Still others think of Boyd as the most influential military theorist since Sun Tzu. They know only half the story. Boyd, more than any other person, saved fighter aviation from the predations of the Strategic Air Command. His manual of fighter tactics changed the way every air force in the world flies and fights. He discovered a physical theory that forever altered the way fighter planes were designed. Later in life, he developed a theory of military strategy that has been adopted throughout the world and even applied to business models for maximizing efficiency. And in one of the most startling and unknown stories of modern military history, the Air Force fighter pilot taught the U.S. Marine Corps how to fight war on the ground. His ideas led to America's swift and decisive victory in the Gulf War and foretold the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. On a personal level, Boyd rarely met a general he couldn't offend. He was loud, abrasive, and profane. A man of daring, ferocious passion and intractable stubbornness, he was that most American of heroes -- a rebel who cared not for his reputation or fortune but for his country. He was a true patriot, a man who made a career of challenging the shortsighted and self-serving Pentagon bureaucracy. America owes Boyd and his disciples -- the six men known as the "Acolytes" -- a great debt. Robert Coram finally brings to light the remarkable story of a man who polarized all who knew him, but who left a legacy that will influence the military -- and all of America -- for decades to come . . .


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John Boyd may be the most remarkable unsung hero in all of American military history. Some remember him as the greatest U.S. fighter pilot ever -- the man who, in simulated air-to-air combat, defeated every challenger in less than forty seconds. Some recall him as the father of our country's most legendary fighter aircraft -- the F-15 and F-16. Still others think of Boyd a John Boyd may be the most remarkable unsung hero in all of American military history. Some remember him as the greatest U.S. fighter pilot ever -- the man who, in simulated air-to-air combat, defeated every challenger in less than forty seconds. Some recall him as the father of our country's most legendary fighter aircraft -- the F-15 and F-16. Still others think of Boyd as the most influential military theorist since Sun Tzu. They know only half the story. Boyd, more than any other person, saved fighter aviation from the predations of the Strategic Air Command. His manual of fighter tactics changed the way every air force in the world flies and fights. He discovered a physical theory that forever altered the way fighter planes were designed. Later in life, he developed a theory of military strategy that has been adopted throughout the world and even applied to business models for maximizing efficiency. And in one of the most startling and unknown stories of modern military history, the Air Force fighter pilot taught the U.S. Marine Corps how to fight war on the ground. His ideas led to America's swift and decisive victory in the Gulf War and foretold the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. On a personal level, Boyd rarely met a general he couldn't offend. He was loud, abrasive, and profane. A man of daring, ferocious passion and intractable stubbornness, he was that most American of heroes -- a rebel who cared not for his reputation or fortune but for his country. He was a true patriot, a man who made a career of challenging the shortsighted and self-serving Pentagon bureaucracy. America owes Boyd and his disciples -- the six men known as the "Acolytes" -- a great debt. Robert Coram finally brings to light the remarkable story of a man who polarized all who knew him, but who left a legacy that will influence the military -- and all of America -- for decades to come . . .

30 review for Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sean Gibson

    It's been a loooonnnngg time since I read this book (11 or 12 years ago, back when I was a single man on the prowl in Manhattan...and this is how I spent my time); I came across it in a friend's feed today and remembered, "Ah! That's a quality book!" It was one of those, "I have no idea who this guy is and turns out he's insanely fascinating"-type books. Not for everyone, but if you have a remote inclination toward military history and tactics, worth checking out. It's been a loooonnnngg time since I read this book (11 or 12 years ago, back when I was a single man on the prowl in Manhattan...and this is how I spent my time); I came across it in a friend's feed today and remembered, "Ah! That's a quality book!" It was one of those, "I have no idea who this guy is and turns out he's insanely fascinating"-type books. Not for everyone, but if you have a remote inclination toward military history and tactics, worth checking out.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Wow, this is an obnoxious book. There's no question that Boyd is an influential and important figure, but Coram has written this in his usual style--find a military man who can be painted as an under-appreciated, persecuted genius (punished for his straight-shooting and truth telling to the careerist brass), write in breathless hyperbole (Boyd is the greatest strategist since Sun Tzu) and use no citations, so no once can figure out who said what about Boyd when. The Amazon and Goodreads reviews Wow, this is an obnoxious book. There's no question that Boyd is an influential and important figure, but Coram has written this in his usual style--find a military man who can be painted as an under-appreciated, persecuted genius (punished for his straight-shooting and truth telling to the careerist brass), write in breathless hyperbole (Boyd is the greatest strategist since Sun Tzu) and use no citations, so no once can figure out who said what about Boyd when. The Amazon and Goodreads reviews show that the formula works--people identify ferociously with Boyd, and anyone who doesn't is an enemy, an idiot or should have his tie set on fire.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Holiday

    Biographies of military figures are a tricky business. The core audience for the books is so passionate that they are willing to forgive lousy books in their thirst for more information. For that reason there are a lot of mediocre war books. Because of the title and the subject, it's easy to glance at this book and think of it has a Costco war biography or a decent Christmas present for a military buff. Don't. It is instead of a truly peerless book on military strategy. Coram's chronicle is artfu Biographies of military figures are a tricky business. The core audience for the books is so passionate that they are willing to forgive lousy books in their thirst for more information. For that reason there are a lot of mediocre war books. Because of the title and the subject, it's easy to glance at this book and think of it has a Costco war biography or a decent Christmas present for a military buff. Don't. It is instead of a truly peerless book on military strategy. Coram's chronicle is artful, so well-researched and so informative that it brought John Boyd to the forefront of military strategy well after his death and many years of neglect. Compared to his fellow writers in this field, Coram is a god among men. This book's strength is its ability to make complex, strategic theories that fundamentally shifted the art of war understandable to the average reader. Believe me, that is not an easy task. If the book inspires you to read some of Boyd's academic papers you will quickly discover how artful Coram has translated them. In journal form, Boyd's Creative Destruction is obtuse and confusing. Coram's book is the primer to its understanding for those of us who don't have ranking military professors to explain it. Lastly, Coram doesn't shy away from the negative sides of Boyd's genius bubble. We see how it torn at his family life and how he bore little of the consequences. If it wasn't for the endless patience of his wife who subsidized and tolerated his lifestyle with her support, the world would have been deprived of his insights.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Awesome book covering the life and ideas of John Boyd. I profess to knowing nothing about this man prior to reading this book, and it seems I am in the majority in that respect unfortunately by planned intent. Boyd was a US Air Force fighter pilot turned engineer and scholar, who wrote the Aerial Attack Study that shaped the fighter tactics of not only the USAF but air forces all over the world, pioneered the Energy-Maneuverability Theory that impacted how fighter pilots fought and had a monumen Awesome book covering the life and ideas of John Boyd. I profess to knowing nothing about this man prior to reading this book, and it seems I am in the majority in that respect unfortunately by planned intent. Boyd was a US Air Force fighter pilot turned engineer and scholar, who wrote the Aerial Attack Study that shaped the fighter tactics of not only the USAF but air forces all over the world, pioneered the Energy-Maneuverability Theory that impacted how fighter pilots fought and had a monumental impact on aircraft design, and also developed the OODA loop and Patterns of Conflict that among other things contributed to the executed plan of the Gulf War. This was a man of conviction that tenaciously pursued his goals and ideas whilst being ostracized by most of the military. His stated beliefs regarding "to be somebody or to do something" is a climatic decision every person must make in this world, and that is the point I have taken from this book. Recommended reading for everyone, but military officers in particular. I look forward to reading more about Boyd's theories in the future.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Laura Noggle

    What did I miss? I feel like I read a different book than those with glowing reviews. Another case of an important piece of history battered into a hyperbolic, dry and exhausting narrative. Great man, great story, I won't dispute that. The author just comes across a little too much like an amped frat-bro hyping the bro-lord he idolizes. Much like A Woman of No Importance, this book had elements of a great story, with disappointing delivery. It felt repetitive, and probably could have been *at lea What did I miss? I feel like I read a different book than those with glowing reviews. Another case of an important piece of history battered into a hyperbolic, dry and exhausting narrative. Great man, great story, I won't dispute that. The author just comes across a little too much like an amped frat-bro hyping the bro-lord he idolizes. Much like A Woman of No Importance, this book had elements of a great story, with disappointing delivery. It felt repetitive, and probably could have been *at least* 100 pages shorter. All that aside, it was very interesting and a solid 3 star read. To be fair, I just don't think much in the way of military biographies can come close to the excellence that was Chernow's Grant, or even Manchester's American Caesar.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nooilforpacifists

    This bio is a 3-for. John Boyd was the top-gun US fighter pilot in the era between Korea and Vietnam. When his Air Force flying days were over -- after returning from Georgia Tech with an engineering graduate degree -- he moved to the Pentagon, designing some of the best fighter aircraft ever flown, and laid the ground work for the "A-" series ground-support aircraft. Later, trying to out-guess Soviet capabilities in dogfights, he invented the OODA (Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action) lo This bio is a 3-for. John Boyd was the top-gun US fighter pilot in the era between Korea and Vietnam. When his Air Force flying days were over -- after returning from Georgia Tech with an engineering graduate degree -- he moved to the Pentagon, designing some of the best fighter aircraft ever flown, and laid the ground work for the "A-" series ground-support aircraft. Later, trying to out-guess Soviet capabilities in dogfights, he invented the OODA (Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action) loop for military strategy (then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney employed it in Gulf War I)--and the OODA loop was adopted as a management tool, where it's still taught today. Still, Boyd was a misanthrope, ill-suited to command, and anything but a family man. Coram's excellent book presents Colonel Boyd, warts and all.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tom Stamper

    Many people see themselves as reformers and idealistic and think the world will celebrate them for their reforms because they are logical and beneficial. The problem is that actual reform stops the inertia of systems that benefit the people who have a lot to lose. The better the reform the greater the attempt to buy off the reformer. If buy-offs don't work then the system itself puts its resources into ruining the reputation of the reformer. It's how idealists become realists or how innocents be Many people see themselves as reformers and idealistic and think the world will celebrate them for their reforms because they are logical and beneficial. The problem is that actual reform stops the inertia of systems that benefit the people who have a lot to lose. The better the reform the greater the attempt to buy off the reformer. If buy-offs don't work then the system itself puts its resources into ruining the reputation of the reformer. It's how idealists become realists or how innocents become cynics. Every so often a reformer comes around that can't be defeated in a conventional way. Even when he is personally defeated his work and legacy live on. John Boyd was such a man. From the air it would look like Boyd sacrificed everything to be a reformer, his career, his family, his finances. The truth is that none of these things were a sacrifice for Boyd because his work was all that really mattered to him. In many ways that's a tragedy, but it's also a great lesson on how our lives are the sum total of the trade-offs we make to balance our values. It's easy to see the fruits of someone's success, but its not easy to see the sacrifices necessary to get there. I came away admiring the hell out of John Boyd, but I can't imagine the strain of trying to live his life. This is an important book that explains the evolution of warfare in the 20th century, the dangers of conventional wisdom, the enemies of reform, the spirit of the warrior, and the tenacity of an air force pilot that never rose higher than colonel because he would rather do something than be someone. Most importantly, if you just focus on how Boyd prepared himself better than his adversaries you can understand why his unpopularity could not undo his ideas. The lessons here go way behind the military to any entrenched system you may encounter. Here are some of the things that made Boyd Special: -He was nicknamed 40 second Boyd when he was an instructor at the Elite Air Force Flying School because he said he could kill any other pilot in a dogfight in 40 seconds or he would give them $40. He never paid the $40. He killed most in under 20 seconds. - Boyd would run the numbers on every American military plane and compare them to the equivalent Soviet plane and could show how ours were inferior and it would costs lives. This made him enemies of people who should have cared more about these deficiencies than he did. - Boyd tried to influence building smaller lighter airplanes that could win in dogfights. He didn't succeed but he did help the F-16 and the F-17 become better planes than they would have been if the committee approach had their way. - He synthesized the knowledge of warfare into an overarching theory where he explains that Sun Tzu's theories were superior to Clausewitz because winning at war is as much about how you get into the head of your opponent as it is what you do offensively. - He called the common Infantry attack, "Hey Diddle Diddle, right up the Middle." It was the kind of conventional wisdom that created wars of attrition and caused unnecessary casualties. Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, sought Boyd out before our invasion of Iraq in 1991. Boyd influenced the decoy of amphibious assault on Kuwait and a sneak attack through the dessert. This brought a swift resolution of the conflict with few American casualties. It would have been even more successful except that the army slowed down to find symetry and cost itself a bigger victory. Boyd explained how Eisenhower made the same mistake with Patton in 1945 and it kept Patton out of Berlin. - There were a lot of people who come off poorly in the book, but two politicians from the opposite sides of the aisle come off well. Gary Hart and Dick Cheney appreciated the candor of Boyd and his team when others like Cap Weinberger, Nancy Kasslebaum, and even Sam Nunn to some extend gave in to the political system in the Pentagon.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rich

    A very detailed biography of a vastly misunderstood man. Coram's description is mostly of the man himself, rather than his ideas. Boyd was an extremely flawed husband, father, and yes even officer. But despite his lumps he was a morally courageous officer and brilliant thinker. Coram only gives you a basic overview of his theories (of which his minor theory is the oft-quoted mostly misunderstood OODA loop), but really this is only enough to pique your interest. Hammond's "The Mind of War" is more A very detailed biography of a vastly misunderstood man. Coram's description is mostly of the man himself, rather than his ideas. Boyd was an extremely flawed husband, father, and yes even officer. But despite his lumps he was a morally courageous officer and brilliant thinker. Coram only gives you a basic overview of his theories (of which his minor theory is the oft-quoted mostly misunderstood OODA loop), but really this is only enough to pique your interest. Hammond's "The Mind of War" is more effective at describing Boyd's theories. But Osinga's "Science, Strategy and War" is most exhaustive at providing the reader with Boyd's intellectual context and foundations. Boyd's most important and novel addition to humankind is his theories on learning in within uncertainty, adaptation, and synthesis of new novel strategies, theories, and concepts for application in the future. This goes well beyond the OODA-loop! For those readers who desire further insight in how successful learners overcome and adapt to change these texts are must-reads!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    Great bio of John Boyd, the fighter pilor who pioneered the use of Energy Maneuverability theory that dominates fighter design. He then went on to become a force for reform within the Pentagon, influencing the F-15, F-16, and A-10 programs. His final contribution was on the overall theory of learning and operations, including the now-famous OODA loop. A fascinating iconoclast-I normally don't like biographies that much, but this one was very good. Great bio of John Boyd, the fighter pilor who pioneered the use of Energy Maneuverability theory that dominates fighter design. He then went on to become a force for reform within the Pentagon, influencing the F-15, F-16, and A-10 programs. His final contribution was on the overall theory of learning and operations, including the now-famous OODA loop. A fascinating iconoclast-I normally don't like biographies that much, but this one was very good.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Otis Chandler

    A very interesting book about John Boyd, who was a crack fighter pilot, and then later military strategist and reformer. Boyd flew as an instructor in the real life version of Top Gun, and beat everyone in 40 seconds or less. But later in his life he really studied military strategy, and this is where the interesting parts of this book are. Boyd was literally the designer of the F-15, and a theory of maneuvering called Energy-Manueverability (E-M), which mathematically gave a chart for each aircr A very interesting book about John Boyd, who was a crack fighter pilot, and then later military strategist and reformer. Boyd flew as an instructor in the real life version of Top Gun, and beat everyone in 40 seconds or less. But later in his life he really studied military strategy, and this is where the interesting parts of this book are. Boyd was literally the designer of the F-15, and a theory of maneuvering called Energy-Manueverability (E-M), which mathematically gave a chart for each aircraft that gave pilots an idea of the ideal speeds and altitudes they could use to pull off various turns and tactics. One interesting thing I noted was that throughout his career, like everyone else in the military, Boyd was getting reviewed by his superiors, called ER's. It was interesting to hear, and relevant to business, how you had to "read through the lines" and how even a positive sounding ER could be a career-killer if the person wasn't recommended for promotion. Reading this has definitely made me think twice every time I've read (or written) recommendations for people. Another Boyd tidbit I liked was when fighting bureaucratic battles in the Pentagon, he had a mantra to "use the other persons information against him". Starting with the other persons argument and data, and working backwards, you can make pretty compelling arguments. Perhaps the biggest idea Boyd came up with is what is called the OODA loop, which stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. A key quote defining the OODA loop: "Thinking about operating at a quicker tempo - not just moving faster - than the adversary was a new concept in waging war. Generating a rapidly changing environment - that is, engaging in activity that is quick it is disorienting and appears uncertain or ambiguous to the enemy - inhibits the adversary's ability to adapt and causes confusion and disorder that, in turn, causes an adversary to overreact or underreact. Boyd closed the briefing by saying the message is that whoever can handle the quickest rate of change is the one who survives." Another great quote that helps explain it: "Boyd said the strategies and bloodbaths of World War 1 were the natural consequence of both the vo Clausewitzian battle philosophy and the inability of generals to adapt new tactics to nineteenth-century technology: line abreast, mass against mass, and linear defenses against machine guns and quick-firing artillery. The bankrupt nature of that doctrine was demonstrated on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, which the British suffered sixty thousand casualties. After more than three years of the meat-grinding form of war, the Germans began engagements with a brief artillery barrage with smoke and gas obscuring their intentions, then sent in a special infantry teams. These small groups looked for gaps in the defense and advanced along many paths. They did not hit strong points but instead went around them, pressing on, always going forward and not worrying about their flanks. They were like water going downhill, bypassing obstacles, always moving, proving, and then, when they found an opening, pouring through, pressing deeper and deeper." Getting your lieutenants to the point where they can do this kind of infiltration successfully requires great communication and men who can think fast on their feet. In other words, you had to enable every leader to be able to follow the OODA loop, and just arm them with the overal goals, and trust them to make their own decisions. Very different from previous military structures, where "the need to know" remained at the top. Why is this empowerment valuable? Because: "The key thing to understand about Boyd's version is the not the mechanical cycle itself, but rather the need to execute the cycle in such fashion as to get inside the mind and the decision cycle of the adversary. This means the adversary is dealing with out-dated or irrelevant information and thus becomes confused and disoriented and can't function." And: "Understanding the OODA loop enables a commander to compress time - that is, the time between observing a situation and taking an action. A commander can use the temporal discrepancy (a form of fast transient) to select the least-expected action rather than what is predicted to be the most effective action. The enemy can also figure out what might be the most effective. To take the least-expected action disorients the enemy. It causes him to pause, wonder, to question." This makes sense. You can almost picture the commanders of old, who used to have to get on the phone with their boss in order make any decision. "Take the bridge, blow it up, or wait?". Hours and days could be spent waiting around for generals to make up their minds. This form of maneuver warfare is what the Germans used in WWII - they called it blitzkrieg - and it's what we used in Iraq the first time. In business we have a word for the above - micromanagement. In a sense, it sounds like empowering business leaders and their lieutenants to have an effective OODA loop is what will let a business move faster and win marketshare. I bet somebody has written a book about that - I will have to look.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Pat Rolston

    This book needs to be a required reading for military as well as elected Congressman and Senators. Much of the rot and bloating of the obscene military budget is attributable to the system John Boyd outwitted. Anyone with the slightest interest in military history and aircraft also needs to read the book for pure enjoyment. The story of John Boyd’s life is wonderfully told by the author and is long overdue. He is an American hero who fought the toughest opponent: the Pentagon. There is a price p This book needs to be a required reading for military as well as elected Congressman and Senators. Much of the rot and bloating of the obscene military budget is attributable to the system John Boyd outwitted. Anyone with the slightest interest in military history and aircraft also needs to read the book for pure enjoyment. The story of John Boyd’s life is wonderfully told by the author and is long overdue. He is an American hero who fought the toughest opponent: the Pentagon. There is a price paid by the rebels and those who fight injustice. John Boyd’s sacrifices make for compelling reading. He is a complex man whose story reveals so much about the clash of integrity with greed in the US military and government. One person can indeed change the world and John Boyd did his part.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Despite its somewhat campy style (the author uses foreshadowing with the reckless abandon of a third-grader), this book hit me hard - it's a winding story of the tragic, heroic, and entirely unbelievable life of John Boyd, a somewhat forgotten military strategist who, this book implies, worked with SecDef Cheney to design the famous Marine assault and Army tank push that just devastated Iraq during the first Gulf War after a career that progressed from legendary fighter ace to renegade Pentagon Despite its somewhat campy style (the author uses foreshadowing with the reckless abandon of a third-grader), this book hit me hard - it's a winding story of the tragic, heroic, and entirely unbelievable life of John Boyd, a somewhat forgotten military strategist who, this book implies, worked with SecDef Cheney to design the famous Marine assault and Army tank push that just devastated Iraq during the first Gulf War after a career that progressed from legendary fighter ace to renegade Pentagon airframe designer and theoretician to a public voice for procurement reform and finally into a monastic life as a self-taught intellectual and military ethicist / strategist. This is one of the most unbelievable biographies I've ever read - Boyd's professional career was marked by facing down enormous military bureaucracies, losing to them, and then finally winning years or even decades later, sometimes after he died. He was a brilliant, creative thinker, but a terribly flawed husband and father, a deeply unpleasant man and awful manager, but a charismatic mentor and engaging rhetorician - the kind of guy who calls at 2am with an idea when you just want to be asleep or who steals millions of dollars of computer time to simulate an idea that the Air Force brass wanted to squash. Because almost all of his work was classified, and because most of it was presented orally in the form of briefings that, I kid you not, sometimes took up to 14 hours, I literally knew nothing about John Boyd before picking up this book. Boyd's life has to be described as a tragedy - the man never had a father or any other kind of mentor, and he never learned the critical lesson that it's just as important to convince others as it is to be right. He constantly found himself on the wrong side of the fight, and never seemed to find the right support structure; his "Acolytes" were something, but they didn't shield him nearly as much as he shielded all of them. Overall, this is one of those people that stretches the imagination - a lot of biographies don't capture the feeling of the person being profiled; this book pulled me along magnetically. Almost certainly one of my top books of 2019. Some thoughts I had while reading: - Developing air tactics was so hard; technology changed things every couple decades, and there just wasn't a good way to converge on good approaches because of how much technology moved forward. - The idea of decomposition and recomposition was central to Boyd's conception of creativity and critical to his general worldview. - Boyd was a truly awful family man, just absolutely the worst.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sagnik Mukherjee

    This book got me very very interested in military history and biographies. John Boyd's ability of losing himself in the pursuit of excellence is truly inspirational. I feel a personal connection with this book as it paints a picture of a man I want to become in the future. This book got me very very interested in military history and biographies. John Boyd's ability of losing himself in the pursuit of excellence is truly inspirational. I feel a personal connection with this book as it paints a picture of a man I want to become in the future.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lukasz

    recommendation: [How Going Meta Can Level Up Your Career - LessWrong 2.0](https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/2P2fu...) > (I highly recommend you pick up this biography of him.) The one that jumped out most starkly is the pattern that Boyd exhibited throughout his career that allowed him to consistently progress. recommendation: [How Going Meta Can Level Up Your Career - LessWrong 2.0](https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/2P2fu...) > (I highly recommend you pick up this biography of him.) The one that jumped out most starkly is the pattern that Boyd exhibited throughout his career that allowed him to consistently progress.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    I only rated Boyd 3 out of 5 stars. The reason for this is that I think that the author has not done full due diligence on some of the material that he has been given, most likely in interviews, before writing it as fact. One particular 'fact' that really grated on me was Coram writing the F-4 Phantom off as a fighter because it did not meet Boyd's criteria for a fighter - the are numerous similar examples in the book which I believe are just the result of either inadequate research or a desire I only rated Boyd 3 out of 5 stars. The reason for this is that I think that the author has not done full due diligence on some of the material that he has been given, most likely in interviews, before writing it as fact. One particular 'fact' that really grated on me was Coram writing the F-4 Phantom off as a fighter because it did not meet Boyd's criteria for a fighter - the are numerous similar examples in the book which I believe are just the result of either inadequate research or a desire to canonise Boyd as some sort of voice in the wilderness. One comes through very clearly to any military reader of this book is that one of the main reasons behind Boyd's isolation by the USAF was Boyd himself - if he had played a long game, it is likely that he could have both realised the fulfilment of his dream AND achieve 'stardom' in the military sense. Instead he opted for tactical engagements that did much to turn the system against him. That notwithstanding, this should be compulsory reading for anyone who glibly prattles on about the OODA Loop and the odds are positive that they probably neither understand it or where it comes from: THAT message is what makes this book worth reading regardless of whether you are in business, aeronautical engineering or aspire to be a fighter pilot. Apart from the flaw detailed above, Boyd is well-written and a good study of a man who probably changed the world in more ways than he realised (or probably anyone else for that matter). I read the Nook version and I think that this is lacking any of the drawing or other images that may be in a print version.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Gene

    I loved this book, as well. There's a phrase in there that frames the type of paradigm breakthrough that occurs about once per century -- the author describes what Boyd did with analysis of fighters as moving the world from "Copernican to Newtonian." I was stunned at how much Boyd achieved, and where he ultimately took his research, but at the cost of neglecting his family and potentially a little bit of his sanity as well. An amazing book, for sure. I loved this book, as well. There's a phrase in there that frames the type of paradigm breakthrough that occurs about once per century -- the author describes what Boyd did with analysis of fighters as moving the world from "Copernican to Newtonian." I was stunned at how much Boyd achieved, and where he ultimately took his research, but at the cost of neglecting his family and potentially a little bit of his sanity as well. An amazing book, for sure.

  17. 4 out of 5

    John

    Way too much inside baseball for my liking. Oscillates in tone between hero worship and sour grapes. It was great to get more background on how OODA etc evolved, and also the comparisons of the A-10 vs F-15 makes a good companion to reading F.I.R.E, but beyond that it was mostly whining about how shit the pentagon is. Way too much inside baseball for my liking. Oscillates in tone between hero worship and sour grapes. It was great to get more background on how OODA etc evolved, and also the comparisons of the A-10 vs F-15 makes a good companion to reading F.I.R.E, but beyond that it was mostly whining about how shit the pentagon is.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Pete

    Where to begin? I’ve read the physical copy of this book probably eight times. The references and insights in the book are profound and useful in the extreme. Further to the book, I recommend the citations - Spinney’s eulogy to Boyd offers a wonderful summary of the book, Boyd’s life and thinking. https://americawar.wordpress.com/thin... In summary? Fabulous and highly recommended. Where to begin? I’ve read the physical copy of this book probably eight times. The references and insights in the book are profound and useful in the extreme. Further to the book, I recommend the citations - Spinney’s eulogy to Boyd offers a wonderful summary of the book, Boyd’s life and thinking. https://americawar.wordpress.com/thin... In summary? Fabulous and highly recommended.

  19. 5 out of 5

    TK Keanini

    Boyd was one of the greatest thinkers and his OODA loop is referenced today by many diciplines. This book captures who he was and how he approached problems. It is behind the scenes with a person who wanted to understand the strategy of strategy.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mike Raymond

    Just completed ‘Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War.’ Wow! Incredible read! This one appealed to my inner ‘fighter jock,’ and it might appeal to yours, as well. It’s going to be difficult to summarize succinctly. Before I go on, if you don’t fully appreciate the military-industrial complex that is the Pentagon*, or that key military figures like Norman Schwarzkopf’s “hi-diddle-diddle, right up the middle” battle plan in Desert Storm was sent to the trash heap, and that he never cre Just completed ‘Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War.’ Wow! Incredible read! This one appealed to my inner ‘fighter jock,’ and it might appeal to yours, as well. It’s going to be difficult to summarize succinctly. Before I go on, if you don’t fully appreciate the military-industrial complex that is the Pentagon*, or that key military figures like Norman Schwarzkopf’s “hi-diddle-diddle, right up the middle” battle plan in Desert Storm was sent to the trash heap, and that he never credited the source of the “Hail Mary” plan, then this book may not be for you. If you believe that highly principled men who want to do the right thing in the military, but are forced to retire early, then such nettlesome facts may not be what you want to hear. But, if you like badassery and ‘fighter jockery’ in its many forms, including holding yourself to the highest standards of ‘duty,’ then this is the book for you. When the Air Force became its own separate branch of the military, John Boyd was there. He was there in the beginning, and at the end of his career, he was there during one of the biggest transformations in the history of the Air Force. And he caused the transformation. He was the singular genesis behind the Reform movement that swept through the Pentagon, post-Vietnam. Oh, and by the way, he transformed the Army and the Marines along the way. Although his personal life was a mess, and he had the personal charm of a Honey Badger, his professional accomplishments were pretty darn good for a fighter jock! Boyd flew F-86’s in Korea, but got there too late to record a kill. After the war, be came back to teach fighter pilots at Nellis Air Force Base, outside Las Vegas. This is the Air Force’s version of Top Gun. There, he became known as ‘40-second Boyd,’ because in aerial combat training, he could ‘kill’ anyone in under 40 seconds. Not only did he do it time and time again, he always started with his opponent on his six o’clock. He was known as the best fighter pilot in the Air Force. But, this is just the beginning of his remarkable career. It then takes a strange, but interesting turn. At the time, air-to-air combat was taught almost anecdotally, in story-telling fashion. The lessons they taught at Nellis, mostly from WWII and Korean vets, were more art than science. Think ‘more speed, come at them from their 6 o’clock, preferably with sun behind you, etc, etc.’ Hopefully, you get the idea. Similarly, aircraft at that time were designed with speed at all costs, and to heck with maneuverability. Boyd became obsessed with turning air combat into a science, and he spent countless years, and several years at Georgia Tech developing his theory. He called it the ‘energy-maneuverability theory,’ and it was used to describe an aircraft’s performance as a function of kinetic and potential energy, and specifically a function of an aircraft’s thrust, weight, drag, and wing area. Mathematically-speaking, his formula looks like this: Energy = Velocity * ((Thrust – Drag)/Weight) This was a game-changer. Boyd then fed these same inputs into computational models and graphically displayed the combat capabilities of U.S. aircraft throughout the aircraft’s performance regime. In other words, he defined an airplane’s ‘envelope.’ But, he didn’t stop there. He then fed into his computational models all the data from Soviet aircraft. Although the analysis could then be used to exploit the advantages that the American aircraft had over the Soviets, the results shocked the Air Force establishment when it was revealed that, on average, the Soviet aircraft could outperform their American counterparts. And all this during the height of the Cold War! Time and time again, the Air Force establishment tried to silence Boyd or get him fired for what they deemed his heresy. But, he was right, and the generals didn’t want hear the truth. Oh, did I mention that he did all of this in his spare time, while holding down his regular job? He, and his acolytes within the Pentagon became known as the Fighter Mafia. His analysis and persistence led the military to retire the F-111, and to build the F-15, F-18, F-16, and A-10, with the latter two being his prized darlings – the F-16 because it was more consistent E-M, and could perform a better ‘buttonhook,’ and the A-10 because the Air Force needed an aircraft with high loiter time. Boyd insisted that the aircraft manufacturers design their weapons using his E-M Theory, and they do to this day. But, did he stop there? No, no. He applied his out-of-the-box thinking to combat, as a whole, and developed what becomes known as his thesis, ‘Patterns of Conflict,’ which became known simply as ‘Patterns.’ It can get a little complicated, so I’ll just quote was ‘Patterns’ was all about:** “Patterns of Conflict was a presentation by Colonel John Boyd outlining his theories on modern combat and how the key to success was to upset the enemy's "observation-orientation-decision-action time cycle or loop", or OODA loop. Patterns developed the idea of a "counter-blitz", a blitzkrieg in reverse, with numerous attacks followed by withdrawals to the rear. The aim was to confuse the enemy by presenting no apparent strategy, reveal the enemy's intentions through the strength of the response, and present a misleading picture of the defender's own actions in order to disrupt the attacker's future plan of action.” The combatant with the fastest OODA loop will be victorious. The success of Desert Storm was a direct result of the Patterns’ theory. Cheney was a convert, and he and Boyd worked out the strategy. There was nothing “Hail Mary” about this plan, it was classic Boyd: the Marines feign an amphibious landing in Kuwait, and then the Army performs a wide sweep around the Iraqi forces, enveloping them. Execution of the plan resulted in so much confusion (classic ‘Patterns’) for the Iraqis that they surrendered to a much smaller force of Allied forces. (The Marines, more so than any of the branches, embraced ‘Patterns.’) And Boyd’s A-10 Warthog during Desert Storm was coined the “Cross of Death” by the Iraqis. Sadly, ‘Colonel’ Boyd is quite likely the most unknown leading military strategist/theorist in American history. Oh, and a dozen or so other NATO countries, like Israel, adopted ‘Patterns,’ as well. The business community also benefited from Boyd’s work through books like Tom Peters’ Thriving on Chaos. His legacy lives on! * I’m referring to the largely procurement function of the five-sided building here. ** ’Patterns’ was in some respects a modernized adoption of Sun Zhu’s Art of War, but this doesn’t diminish the importance of this seminal work because a great deal of the thesis wasn’t Sun Zhu.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dustyn Gobler

    I just finished the excellent biography of John Boyd. Don’t let the title fool you, because Boyd was more than a fighter pilot. He was a great thinker who developed the Energy-maneuverability theory, that would change aeronautics; and the OODA Loop, that would change the way we’d look at conflict. (For example: see this post about surviving an active shooter situation by breaking the shooter’s OODA Loop.) Anyway, the book was excellent and I highly recommend the read. In regard to John Boyd’s lif I just finished the excellent biography of John Boyd. Don’t let the title fool you, because Boyd was more than a fighter pilot. He was a great thinker who developed the Energy-maneuverability theory, that would change aeronautics; and the OODA Loop, that would change the way we’d look at conflict. (For example: see this post about surviving an active shooter situation by breaking the shooter’s OODA Loop.) Anyway, the book was excellent and I highly recommend the read. In regard to John Boyd’s life, I’m conflicted of his story as a role model. Despite the excellence of his work, the bureaucratic military machine never made Boyd a General. Despite the work of his peers, the military industrial complex keeps churning out more expensive weapons of questionable value. And despite negligence and ‘hillbilly armor‘ and four useless wars, people still join the Army, while the press and the American public don’t really care about waste in the armed services. Against this backdrop of apathy; I can’t help wonder why? Why did Boyd sacrifice his relationship with his family in exchange for indifference? Why be a part of power structure, if you’re only going to curse off your superiors and antagonize them at every opportunity? And most importantly, why did he not follow the very core of his own message about being an “elusive sword” when promoting his ideas and theories? “The nail that sticks out, gets hammered down.” Boyd had to come across this dictum during his years of study. So I don’t understand what he was hoping to accomplish with his life and living it the way that he did, at such a high personal cost.

  22. 4 out of 5

    William Bahr

    Boyd: A strategist's strategist his book is an excellent biography of America fighter pilot and strategist John Boyd. Well-researched and well-written, the book is something of an easy read for those familiar with the military, a bit of technology, and strategy. Half strategic theory and half exploits, trials, and tribulations of a fighter pilot’s fighter pilot, the book paints a vivid portrait of a curiously curmudgeonly autodidact-polymath. Though with an extensive military background, I had not Boyd: A strategist's strategist his book is an excellent biography of America fighter pilot and strategist John Boyd. Well-researched and well-written, the book is something of an easy read for those familiar with the military, a bit of technology, and strategy. Half strategic theory and half exploits, trials, and tribulations of a fighter pilot’s fighter pilot, the book paints a vivid portrait of a curiously curmudgeonly autodidact-polymath. Though with an extensive military background, I had not known about John Boyd until relatively recently, and this book helped me mightily along the way of becoming familiar with this strategic giant. I must say, however, that I’ve surprisingly found most of my Army theorist friends had never before heard of him, and this includes people who were on GEN Schwarzkopf’s Jedi Knights Staff, the folks who actually planned the details of the Iraq I Invasion. Some even said it was intuitively obvious that the Desert Storm “Left-Hook” strategy (for which the book credit to Boyd) should have been the one chosen. Nevertheless, I did find one Army Jedi Knights high-level theorist who knew of Boyd but didn’t know of his contribution to Desert Storm planning. Perhaps not surprisingly I did find any number of Air Force friends who knew of pilot Boyd’s contributions to maneuver conflict strategy. Bottom-line and as a fellow author, I highly recommend Coram’s book for any serious student of strategy.

  23. 5 out of 5

    James Giammona

    Boyd was a true maverick! He was perhaps the US's best fighter pilot, wrote the textbook on fighter jet tactics, invented a new way of comparing jet aircraft called Energy-Manuverability theory, used this theory to help design the F-15, F-16, and F-18. His followers were instrumental in pushing and achieving reforms in the Pentagon's procurement process and led the development of the A-10 and the use of realistic prototypes and live-fire testing. Boyd ended his career with a broadly applicable t Boyd was a true maverick! He was perhaps the US's best fighter pilot, wrote the textbook on fighter jet tactics, invented a new way of comparing jet aircraft called Energy-Manuverability theory, used this theory to help design the F-15, F-16, and F-18. His followers were instrumental in pushing and achieving reforms in the Pentagon's procurement process and led the development of the A-10 and the use of realistic prototypes and live-fire testing. Boyd ended his career with a broadly applicable theory of warfare that includes time and information processing and laid the foundation for the tactics used in Desert Storm. Overall, a biography of a very interesting man and an example of how new ideas and progress can come from anywhere.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nat

    This book answers one big question that I've wondered about for a long time: Why does the Air Force keep trying to get rid of the A-10, when it's clearly very good at its job (close air support)? The answer is that the existence of the Air Force as a separate branch of the military depends on having a distinct mission from the Army, and close air support is not independent of the missions of the Army. In fact it's in the service of the Army. And the fact that the A-10 is designed solely for that This book answers one big question that I've wondered about for a long time: Why does the Air Force keep trying to get rid of the A-10, when it's clearly very good at its job (close air support)? The answer is that the existence of the Air Force as a separate branch of the military depends on having a distinct mission from the Army, and close air support is not independent of the missions of the Army. In fact it's in the service of the Army. And the fact that the A-10 is designed solely for that role makes it a target. And the A-10 is a lot cheaper than any multi-role aircraft that could be pressed into close air support duties (the F-35 provides an extreme contrast). The way Boyd is represented makes him out to be a kind of Socrates of the military bureaucracy: absurdly smart and skeptical, and even more annoying, on many levels. One way to read this would be of what a virtuous actor would have to look like inside a modern bureaucracy, and it's not pretty.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gregg

    Another “mad” genius. I’m not sure why the most brilliant military thinkers are not able to successfully navigate the personnel system. I’ll be reading “creation and destruction” as well as reviewing his other work in the near future. Best non-combat military bio I have read—heads and shoulders above the standard retired General/civilian military leadership books that offer no value to anyone besides the author.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Frank

    I cannot believe how disappointing this book is. This biography tells the story of a man who thought he was much smarter than he really was and failed at every stage of his career due to his own shortfalls. The book treats Boyd likes a God and acts as if his overconfidence and brashness are virtues.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gene

    Overall good book, enjoyed hearing about all of Col Boyd’s achievements. A few parts of the story carry that self-prescribed fighter pilot mentality but I think it serves to tie the book together and capture the personality of Boyd.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jack

    Everything makes so much more sense now. The late 80s to the early 90s were rough times for the military. The fallout of the Vietnam debacle and the military's refusal to acknowledge its failure were the sign of the times. The Russians began developing better hardware than the bloated military industrial complex which was geared to blowing gazillions of dollars. Air Force developers were so poor that a Navy aircraft, the F-4 Phantom, was forced upon them. The F-111 became a pariah due to its fai Everything makes so much more sense now. The late 80s to the early 90s were rough times for the military. The fallout of the Vietnam debacle and the military's refusal to acknowledge its failure were the sign of the times. The Russians began developing better hardware than the bloated military industrial complex which was geared to blowing gazillions of dollars. Air Force developers were so poor that a Navy aircraft, the F-4 Phantom, was forced upon them. The F-111 became a pariah due to its failures and poor performance. The B-1 was cancelled due to its exorbitant cost and failures of the F-111. What do you do? Answer: begin a clandestine weapons development program within the Air Force. The Fighter Mafia began focusing on air combat superiority solely for its new fighters. Not a flying brick that has diverse mission packages all of which it performs poorly, but a sleek fighter to answer the threat of the Russian MIGs. The Mafia was a group of low-level civil employees and Air Force officers led by Colonel Boyd. Boyd developed his own maneuverability software algorithm that allowed them to design from the ground up a fighter with immense potential. Another acolyte began development of a replacement ground support fighter. The fighter was built around the 30 mm Avenger Cannon. With a long dwell time and the ability to take massive amounts of damage, the A-10 began production. The F-15, 16, and the A-10 were developed during these years by renegade officers fighting the Air Force establishment. The results, were no less than fantastic. Israeli pilots flying the F-15s and 16s clashed with the Syrian Air Force in the early 80s. The Syrian Russian MIGs were no match for American supplied fighters. The IAF downed over 80 MIGs in a span of a few days without a single loss. The 15s and 16s led the strikes in the First Gulf War and prowled the skies during Afghanistan and Iraq over two decades later. The A-10 was known as the Black Death to Iraqi ground troops. Whatever the A-10s locked onto became an inferno. American Air Power is as visible as the Highway of Death as Iraqi troops fleeing Kuwait were annihilated by the American Air Power developed by the Fighter Mafia. Boyd retired since the writing on the wall was clear...no General promotion for you. The establishment does not sit well with successful guerrilla leaders. Boyd's retirement was not one of fishing, endless rounds of golf, or regaling those in the bar about his active duty exploits. Boyd developed a time and movement based warfare theory. He delved into the strategy masters, Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Hart, the German Blitzkrieg experts, the IDF. He developed a new doctrine for warfare. Not just air power of which he was the crown prince, but a combined arms doctrine to crush an enemies reaction capability. He got inside their decision cycle. He created the OODA loop (look this one up...its a good one). No one bought off on it...except the Marines. A few in the USMC liked what they saw. Slowly with much wrangling and gnashing of teeth, the Marines accepted the Boyd doctrine as their own and perfected it. During Grenada one Army General seethed that he had several thousand soldiers immobile while two companies of Marines wreaked havoc around the entire island. The 100 hr Desert Storm land campaign featured an advance by the Marines against the Iraqi defense while the Army did a massive end run in the desert around the flank. The Army forces stalled for three days while the Marines Divisions advanced and mauled the Iraqi positions. Marine elements bypassed strong points and drove deep into the Iraqi positions. 15 Iraqi divisions surrendered to one Marine Division. Iraq had the 4th largest Army in the world. My personal experience with the Marines during my time in Fallujah was eye-opening. Problems are easily overcome by thinking outside the box. If it is a crazy problem, just wait till you see our solutions. Marines are expected to solve their problems at the lowest level. Who comes up with the solution is not the point. In other words, the corporal may have the solution. Their job is to create confusion within the enemy. Destroy the decision making capability. Be where they are unexpected and vanish from their expected positions. General Mattis's call sign of "Chaos" is most fitting. I had no idea where this mentality came from. Now I do. His underdog acolytes went on to do more. Boyd mentored them like a father. None were appreciated by the military. None made it to General. But the did manage to change the entire American spectrum of warfare. It is only fitting that an Air Force renegade and his merry band created the lightning doctrine that destroyed Iraqi military capability in a matter of days. This is a true underdog story. The underdogs are always outgunned and outnumbered. They always are disdained by those of superior strength and position. So when they win, it is nothing less than spectacular. I always root for the underdogs.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sean Crowley

    Probably one of the best written and most interesting accounts of a man who may very well underpin every military success in the last three to four decades. Coram's writing is accessible and depicts the almost surreal events in the life of John Boyd and the other Reformers with charm and ease. This biography had me engrossed, laughing constantly and seriously considering the lies I may have been swallowing for the past ten years. I recommend this book to anyone involved or interested in military Probably one of the best written and most interesting accounts of a man who may very well underpin every military success in the last three to four decades. Coram's writing is accessible and depicts the almost surreal events in the life of John Boyd and the other Reformers with charm and ease. This biography had me engrossed, laughing constantly and seriously considering the lies I may have been swallowing for the past ten years. I recommend this book to anyone involved or interested in military acquisitions and warfighting.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Carr

    With my interest in time and strategy, I have long been aware of the work of John Boyd. I had also dismissed him as a Fighter Pilot whose Observe-Orient-Decide-Act-Loop (OODA) was largely about deciding and acting quickly. I was wrong. The Boyd who shines through in Coram's excellent biography is a man who stressed the OO as much as the DA. A man with far more strategic significance than I had given. And, speaking as an Australian, a man whose rank insouciance towards authority is a pure joy to With my interest in time and strategy, I have long been aware of the work of John Boyd. I had also dismissed him as a Fighter Pilot whose Observe-Orient-Decide-Act-Loop (OODA) was largely about deciding and acting quickly. I was wrong. The Boyd who shines through in Coram's excellent biography is a man who stressed the OO as much as the DA. A man with far more strategic significance than I had given. And, speaking as an Australian, a man whose rank insouciance towards authority is a pure joy to behold. This is an extremely readable and engaging book about a chaotic, brilliant and complex man. He was a gun fighter pilot whose greatest achievements came in peacetime. A man who was not considered a leader and despised by many yet -to this day - has a rich coterie of followers. A man who knew the maths and physics of fighter planes as well as anyone, yet fundamentally stressed the importance of people and ideas before hardware. This is foremost a biography, and a reverential one at that. Yet it is also respectful of the ideas, and provides a useful introduction to a fascinating thinker. I'm still not sure if he's right on many of his ideas about strategy and conflict. But I have come to much greater respect for the way in which he developed those ideas, and the character of the man. There's not a huge literature on Boyd, but I've ordered the Hammond and Osinga books to help take my knowledge further.

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