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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

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  3,156 ratings  ·  315 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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4.37  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,156 ratings  ·  315 reviews

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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: aviation, military
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, management, good
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
Dec 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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.
Fraser Kinnear
Dec 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
In some other universe, John Boyd might have died while still a fighter pilot in his 30's (he was undefeated... the uncontested greatest pilot of his age), and he would still have been a great biography subject. To think that he had an entire other two enormous, impactful journeys in his life is just incredible.

There's so much to cover, but here's a brain dump:

Boyd's influence while a pilot included:
-Boyd developed energy-maneuverabilty theory, which was the first quantitative means of evaluat
Austin W
Jan 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Gary Misch
Mar 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 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.
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Robert Coram is the author of three nonfiction books and seven novels. He lives in Atlanta.
“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.” 6 likes
“If a man can reduce his needs to zero, he is truly free: there is nothing that can be taken from him and nothing anyone can do to hurt him.” 5 likes
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