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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

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  6,736 ratings  ·  483 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
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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
One of the finest biographies I’ve read. Boyd did it all. The Air Force’s best fighter pilot between the Korean and Vietnam Wars, when he was forced to fly a desk, he started designing aircraft. He designed the initial “A” series of low-flying ground-pounders so beloved by Marines. He designed the F-15 AND F-16 fighters as well. Yet he didn’t stop there.

Convinced Pentagon spending was wasteful, and war fighting could be systematized, Boyd invented the O-O-D-A loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act)
Laura Noggle
Apr 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020, nonfiction, history
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
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
Otis Chandler
Dec 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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
Apr 10, 2022 rated it really liked it
"You can't have a normal career and do the good work."

Is it worth it?

Would you financially and emotionally impoverish your family, drive your career into a culvert, goad others into wreck their own careers just so you can be the guy to have some ideas that people like but don’t acknowledge that you came up with them?

John Boyd thought it was worth it. Or, based on this biography, he thought the job in front of him was worth it, very intensely worth it, until he didn’t want to deal with it anymor
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
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. ...more
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
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
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.
Sagnik Mukherjee
Dec 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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. ...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
Matthew Phelps
Sep 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: military-pme
Thorough and honest account of a man who changed the way the American military approaches warfighting. Though not without his personal and professional flaws—which Coram doesn’t shy away from presenting, Boyd spent his life doing the hard intellectual work to adapt and develop maneuver warfare to the modern battlefield.
Sep 27, 2019 marked it as to-read
Shelves: biography
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.
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
Michael Burnam-Fink
Aug 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013, biography, history, war
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
Oct 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Xavier Shay
My take: Boyd was a brilliant asshole who should have been fired from any functioning organisation and been divorced by his wife/family (or properly coached - if possible). But then Air Force is the model of a dysfunctional organisation and so maybe it's better he was there? I get so mad when billions of dollars are misappropriate by pigheaded careerists. So did Boyd.

Some structural issues:
* Over-reliance on Evaluation Reports (ERs) for narrative. They were so unreliable (depended on the mood of
Taylor Pearson
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I absolutely devoured this book. Boyd is most well known for his idea of the OODA loop and it’s military applications, but has a tremendous depth of thought behind and beyond OODA (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act).

As a military theorist, he is tossed around in the same sentences as Sun Tzu and Von Clausewitz. Some see a direct intellectual lineage running from Sun Tzu to Genghis Khan to Miyamoto Musashi to Mao Tse Tung to Boyd and such comparison do not seem unmerited.

Boyd’s work has been adopted by m
Joshua Greer
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So Much More Than the OODA Loop

Being a Marine officer and a pilot, I had heard of John Boyd and had been “taught” about the OODA loop but I learned so much more about what he really meant.

Now that I work in the acquisitions field this book made an even bigger impact. The battles Boyd fought still need to be fought. The Pentagon is still overrun with stubborn old men who waste our money and refuse to listen to new ideas. We need to continue his work.

I’m at my heart a cynic, life in the Marine C
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.
Ramiro Lacayo
Feb 03, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book and classify it as one of the best biographies and even non-fiction books I have read. The writing follows the history on Boyd the man, yet it manages to briskly explore the environments in which Boyd was set in (Army, Marines, Pentagon, etc.) and it provides insight and context over the ideas and concepts developed by John Boyd. The way that it is written, is that it moves past a standard biography and it makes sure to convey John Boyd's virtues, ethic, drive and original thinki ...more
Bryan Rollins
May 01, 2022 rated it it was amazing
A friend recommended this book, and I thought "another story of some military Paton-like hard ass" that's going to show how tough he is.

But this was a completely different story. I won't ruin the narrative around Boyd's career in the AirForce, but his basis thesis in life was:

"You will have to decide if you want to BE someone or DO something". And it appears that was 100% relevant in Boyd's time in the US military. He made huge contributions but is not even credited by the Air Force for his wo
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Robert Coram is the author of three nonfiction books and seven novels. He lives in Atlanta.

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"Autumn is as joyful and sweet as an untimely end."   This slightly unnerving quote, from the French poet and novelist Rémy de Gourmont, nicely...
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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.” 9 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.” 6 likes
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