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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

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  4,815 ratings  ·  400 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
Paperback, 504 pages
Published May 10th 2004 by Back Bay Books (first published 2002)
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Rick Presley Profound question. Bush Jr. cultivated the persona of a buffoon who was only marginally aware of what was going on, yet managed to lead the US for 8 y…moreProfound question. Bush Jr. cultivated the persona of a buffoon who was only marginally aware of what was going on, yet managed to lead the US for 8 years. Trump has elevated caricature to a level beyond. His insight and understanding into the "madness of crowds" is astounding.

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Sean Gibson
Nov 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Margaret Sankey
Jan 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military, aviation
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
Laura Noggle
Apr 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020, history, nonfiction
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
May 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: math-science
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
Tom Stamper
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Sep 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Otis Chandler
Dec 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Pat Rolston
Feb 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: family-book-club
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 ...more
Sep 27, 2019 marked it as to-read
Shelves: biography
recommendation: [How Going Meta Can Level Up Your Career - LessWrong 2.0](

> (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.
Aug 12, 2012 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
Apr 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 25, 2015 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.
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.

In summary? Fabulous and highly recommended.
TK Keanini
Apr 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mike Raymond
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Dustyn Gobler
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
James Giammona
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
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 ...more
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Daniel Frank
Apr 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
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.
May 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: mattis-read-list
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.
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
Sean Crowley
Jun 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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
Mar 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I thought I knew something about Boyd, turns out there was far more to know, which I learned from this book. Well written, well-researched book about a very interesting human being. Much to learn from this book beyond Boyd's background--the areas Boyd innovated in are dealt with, too.
Dec 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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Robert Coram is the author of three nonfiction books and seven novels. He lives in Atlanta.

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There's something great about a paperback book: They're perfect book club choices, you can throw them in your bag and go, and they've been out in...
26 likes · 3 comments
“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.” 8 likes
“Boyd dove deeper and deeper into the study of war. He realized that while wars take place between nations, every person experiences some form of war; conflict is a fundamental part of human nature. To prevail in personal and business relations, and especially war, we must understand what takes place in a person’s mind.” 5 likes
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