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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

4.29 of 5 stars 4.29  ·  rating details  ·  1,268 ratings  ·  133 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
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Published November 21st 2002 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2002)
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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
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
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.
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
Otis Chandler
Mar 28, 2011 Otis Chandler rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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.
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
Austin W
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
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
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.
Gary Misch
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
Nick L
As much as this is a celebration of the genius that was John Boyd, one of the most under appreciated heroes in military history, I was more struck by the undercurrent of the book which read more like a tragedy. Never mind the fact that the military is shown to be a place where you can have a successful career or do the right thing, but not both; "Boyd" tells the tale of a man who could have been so much more than he was if he wasn't just a glaring asshole. Coram attempts to explain Boyd's unwave ...more
An extremely well written biography of Col. John Boyd. Coram provides a comprehensive view of a Boyd's life and work spanning Boyd's difficult childhood, to the consummate fighter pilot "40 sec Boyd," to his Energy-Manuverability Theory whiched changed how fighter aircraft are designed and analyzed, to his trials and tribulations in trying to reform "The Building," and his work on military strategy - including maneuver warfare - which significantly impacted US doctrine in recent wars and undoubt ...more
Bradley Nolden
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.
Let me tell you why this book is terribly important for everyone to read. First it talks of Boyd the intellectual, the greatest military strategist since Sun Tzu. Boyd who along with his "Acolytes" transformed the way armed forces from the world over looked at war. His ideas on E-M theory and the patterns of conflict influenced the way the first gulf war was fought, he was instrumental in the design of the F-16, F-15 and the A-10 aircraft and his ideas give us a clear vision as to why America fa ...more
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 ...more
As I read this I was struck by a number of things. First is what a great impact Boyd has had on not only the USAF but the US military in general. Second, is that he wasted his opportunity to make that impact felt on a greater scale and in a more immediate way through his unprofessional behavior. Aside from the numerous examples of Boyd getting into "knife" fights with general officers, one of the most outrageous was when he took not only 1, but 2 gun runs at a B-52 on final approach to land! Whi ...more
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.
Erik Johannessen
A fascinating, well-told tale of a supremely talented man who brooked no compromised, achieved so much, and paid a steep cost for his rigid adherence to his principles. But more than a story, Boyd is a study of the ideas generated by him and his followers, the Acolytes, an examination of how they changed first the nature of air combat, and then all of warfare, and then adversarial conflict in general. It is also a devastating indictment of the Pentagon and the military/industrial complex, and ho ...more
Didn't realize how much his theories changed aerial warfare and also how they were successfully applied during Desert Storm.
Enjoyable read on a truly remarkable doer and thinker.
Mar 13, 2007 sinamatrix rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: who love flying
it's a good book ,, but a bit hard to underestand,,
After becoming aware of Boyd's OODA Loop as part of a business/management curriculum, I set out to learn "Who is Boyd?"

I felt that this book did a good job relaying who was John Boyd. With a few notable exceptions, it was a quick read, an easy way to wind down at the end of the day.

I felt the flow was good up until the last few chapters, at which point it got side tracked in to "Oh, you must also read this story about Boyd and his Acolytes"

All in all a good book, just felt the end was a let do
Chris G
A near perfect biography.
Rupin Chaudhry
John Boyd’s story is the life and times of a self taught genius who rose from a humble background and went on to achieve such great heights that whole world shall revere his name. Through his integrity and self-righteousness he shook the very foundations of a byzantine military bureaucracy and challenged the beliefs and ideals held most dear by the senior incumbents. He used to say “either you can become someone or you can do something and if you choose to do something you will have to face resi ...more
I became familiar with Boyd through studying quality improvement and performance management and thought this going to be a dry, dry, treatise on improving workflows.

I feel somewhat stupid for having had that opinion as I clearly neglected the most bad ass portion of Boyd's life:


A very compelling story. Subverting Pentagon bureaucracy may not seem a premise for good reading, but I literally laughed out loud a few times at Boyd's maneuvers. Don't get me wrong, he was an as
This book is a great biography on John Boyd's life, contributions, and influence on others. Before reading this book, I had never heard of John Boyd. I am glad a friend loaned me this book to read. John Boyd (1927 – 1997) was blessed with a great mind (intellectually curious) and body which could endure the strenuous physical demands of being a fighter pilot. Boyd’s contributions to general warfare tactics are staggering: maneuver warfare, the OODA cycle (observe, orient, decide & act), the ...more
Michael Burnam-fink
I'm a little bit obsessed with John Boyd and his theory of the OODA loop, but I knew little about the man himself. Corman paints a picture of a brilliant iconoclast: swimmer, fighter tactics instructor, engineer, Pentagon warrior, and finally philosopher-strategist. Corman draws heavily on the memories of Boyd's Acolytes, the six people closest too him in his career, his reticent family, and the public record. As Corman will freely admit, sometimes the myth overtakes the man, but the myth is mor ...more
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Robert Coram is the author of three nonfiction books and seven novels. He lives in Atlanta.
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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.” 2 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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