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Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
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Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War

4.34  ·  Rating Details ·  2,161 Ratings  ·  221 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published November 21st 2002 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2002)
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Sean Gibson
Nov 13, 2015 Sean Gibson rated it really liked it
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.

Apr 02, 2011 Bennet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John Boyd, a fighter pilot who commanded an air base during the Vietnam War, once set a general's tie on fire by jabbing it with a lit cigar in a Pentagon hallway while telling him how fucked up the air force was.

You gotta love John Boyd, contentious grump and royal asshole or no, at least I do, because when it comes to the art and craft of air war he was the working man's (combat pilot's) genius. If you don't know, asshole is the standard air force appellation for fighter pilots, and Boyd consi
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 ...more
Ryan Holiday
Jul 05, 2012 Ryan Holiday rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Otis Chandler
Dec 21, 2010 Otis Chandler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Otis by: John Hering
Shelves: biography, war
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
Jan 19, 2007 Phil rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 25, 2011 Rich rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 24, 2013 Chrissy rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Apr 13, 2007 Gene rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: good, science, management
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.
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.
Dec 31, 2010 Relstuart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jonathan Jessup
I got this book in the mail yesterday and finished about 2:30 this morning. John Boyd had many personal flaws. He was arrogant, loud, profane, rude, and uncouth. (And the book reflects that.) He sacrificed his family to his job. Not acceptable. However, his greatest characteristic was that he was willing to do what was right for the Air Force and the military no matter what it took or who disagreed. When he knew he was right he stood on it, waiving his cigar, and preached. My favorite quote: "Ti ...more
Dec 01, 2015 Bikewriter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well-researched, remarkable book about an exceptional man and warrior, a man who is still shamefully unacknowledged or disrespected by the high-ranking managers of the Pentagon who spend careers protecting their turf and trying to squelch his ground-breaking work as an original thinker. Boyd devoted his life and career to improving the U.S. military forces' tactics, strategy and equipment. He gave us the O-O-D-A Loop ("Observe, Orient, Decide, Act"); "Aerial Attack Study"; the Energy-Maneuvera ...more
Aug 12, 2012 Simon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Oct 07, 2012 Zachary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read.

A quote from Boyd's early childhood really pulls the human side together:
"[Boyd's] family was poor and bore the stigma of having a child with polio. John's clothes were so tatty that a teacher once asked him in front of the class if he could not wear more presentable clothes. He held back his tears until he could get home and tell his mother what happened. She wrapped her arms around him and said, "Don't let it bother you. Say it to yourself over and over, 'It doesn't bother me.
Austin W
Jan 06, 2013 Austin W rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is about the life of John Boyd, a famous and talented Air Force fighter pilot. The authors purpose for writing this was to tell about how in some ways, the military can be pretty corrupt and that John Boyd was one of those who refused to conform to the corrupt system, even though it meant getting passed up for promotions once or twice. The only plot that there is in this book is the lifetime of Boyd and his great accomplishments. The very interesting part of how Robert Coram write this ...more
Gary Misch
Mar 31, 2013 Gary Misch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Boyd was a superb fighter pilot who never had a single kill. He evolved into an analyst who developed an entirely new way of looking at war. His insights became important beyond just warmaking. Today they are studied as part of business strategy as well. Boyd's Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) Loop lies at the hear of successful decision making. How he derived the OODA loop through his study of energy/maneuverability theory is at the heart of this fascinating book. Along the w ...more
Jan 31, 2013 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
A fun story about an amazing man. In his "interesting" ethical approach to life, as well as his game-changing thoughts on warfare and creativity, Boyd struck me as a thinker every bit as valuable as my other intellectual heroes, despite his own label as a "dumb fighter pilot".

Boyd's energy-maneuverability theory, and his later work on destructive creation, OODA loops, and maneuver warfare are the products of a brilliant mind not concerned with supporting the status quo, and his stories about "h
Bradley Nolden
Apr 02, 2008 Bradley Nolden rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best biographies I have read.

This was my first introduction into Boyd and I'm hooked. I really liked how deeply this book delved into Boyd's personal life and how it affected his work. The explanations of his major contributions were excellent primers for beginning to read the briefings on my own. It made me especially interested in the application of the OODA Loop to business strategy.
Aug 25, 2015 John rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 23, 2013 Dave rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Coram does the Boyd Legacy justice. Having met and worked in Pentagon in final years of Boyd's tenure, I can attest that author nails the emotions, impact, counter influences at play and cast of characters during that heady time. A must read.
Chris G
May 21, 2012 Chris G rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A near perfect biography.
Mar 13, 2007 sinamatrix rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: who love flying
it's a good book ,, but a bit hard to underestand,,
Dec 13, 2007 Beth/Chuck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Didn't realize how much his theories changed aerial warfare and also how they were successfully applied during Desert Storm.
Aug 20, 2013 Kars rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Enjoyable read on a truly remarkable doer and thinker.
Tom Stamper
Feb 26, 2017 Tom Stamper rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Many people see themselves as reformers and idealistic people 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 ...more
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Oct 09, 2012 Miles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fighter pilot is an assassin, we are are reminded by Robert Coram, and Colonel John Richard Boyd (January 23, 1927 – March 9, 1997) was one of the best. He was a full-of-himself, obscene, tough-talking, braggart who had something to brag about. He could turn a fighter plane faster than any man in the sky. Other pilots admired and respected him. He was by all accounts a real asshole. If you weren't part of his fraternity, you probably wouldn't like him very much. But, again, if you wanted a per ...more
Ian Ferguson
Here Coram picks a unique figure whose story does not match the typical biography. As a U.S. Air Force pilot, it was interesting to learn that energy maneuverability theory was developed by one man and that it was, at one time, controversial. Today, E-M is so ingrained in Air Force training and consideration of flight characteristics that it is difficult to imagine aviation before Boyd. Coram's description of the political nature of promotion and the corruption of military bureaucracy is a bit e ...more
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 ...more
Dec 04, 2016 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't put this book down.
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Robert Coram is the author of three nonfiction books and seven novels. He lives in Atlanta.
More about Robert Coram...

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“If our mental processes become focused on our internal dogmas and isolated from the unfolding, constantly dynamic outside world, we experience mismatches between our mental images and reality. Then confusion and disorder and uncertainty not only result but continue to increase. Ultimately, as disorder increases, chaos can result. Boyd showed why this is a natural process and why the only alternative is to do a destructive deduction and rebuild one’s mental image to correspond to the new reality.” 3 likes
“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.” 1 likes
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