- Paperback: 504 pages
- Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (May 10, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316796883
- ISBN-13: 978-0316796880
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 482 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War Paperback – May 10, 2004
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""Fascinating....An excellent book....Coram captures the dazzling diversity of John Boyd--fighter pilot, aerial tactician, engineer, and scholar."
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author never bothered to read the official after action report of operation
Urgent Fury in Grenada, since the Army faced the vast majority of the Cuban
armed forces on the island. He also never bothered to provide any context
for Boyd's misguided attack on the Army's understanding of synchronization. Boyd had no practical experience with land warfare or combined arms doctrine and it shows. A more balanced analysis of Boyd's theories is needed, but cannot be found in this book. For an example of a critique of Boyd's views on
Clausewitz, this is from Chris Bassford: "The primary problem with Boyd's thinking is that he
and his disciples consistently ignored the political factors in real-world strategy, on both the theoretical and practical levels' perhaps because there is not a lot of political interaction inside an F-86 cockpit. The
results have been some useful tactical, doctrinal, and technical advances;
much internecine bureaucratic hostility; and a whole lot of personal
and career frustration and destruction. Boyd was an interesting character
and he provided some useful tools, but a Clausewitzian would be
uncomfortable calling him a"strategist." Boyd would have endorse the swift by-pass of cities
and towns in the Iraq war. And as we have seen in the prolonged
resistance campaign he would have been wrong.
Boyd's resume includes, fighter pilot, instructor at Fighter Weapons School, engineer, scholar. He was also abrasive, self destructive, brilliant, driven, insecure and made many powerful enemies. Coram takes you through those experiences showing how Boyd made an impact on each of these jobs. There are some technical errors in the book, but I thought it was well documented, researched an easy read- just one sided. Unfortunately, it is not ground breaking news that the Pentagon is bureaucratic, weapons procurement is broken, but not everyone there is a careerist, Boyd did have help along the way.
Boyd was unique, had a profound impact on the Air Force, fighting tactics, military planning, facts that hold this book together. There are many interesting revelations - how a small group of people (AKA the Fighter Mafia), took on the system, made positive changes which in turn led to the next generation of fighters, tactics and strategy.
Like Boyd, the book has its flaws, but is very interesting to read - a true David and Goliath story about a scary smart pilot, it's fun when the little guy wins - in Col Boyd's case, not wealth or fame, but making a difference. Boyd's genius and obsessiveness with his quest for knowledge reminded me of John Nash (subject of the 2001 movie A Beautiful Mind).
Recommended reading for aviation buffs, air force historians, those who want to see the development of the theory behind the F-15, F-16, F-18, A-10 planes. The book lacks enough objective data to answer the question, was Boyd really the single most influential pilot ever, changing even the art of war? Perhaps not, but Boyd got a lot of people thinking, as does Coram. Five stars for thinking less one star for lack of objectivity.
In the first half of the book Mr. Coram does an excellent job discussing Col Boyd's contributions to air-to-air tactics and fighter design during the Cold War. The portions of the book detailing Boyd and The Reformers efforts in the Pentagon are fascinating, but the machinations of that institution are so complex that I imagine it difficult to give the whole story, even in a volume such as Boyd. Nonetheless, Mr. Coram colorfully highlights the petty inter-service and internecine squabbles that occurred inside the great pentagonal palace. While Coram holds Boyd up high he does not gloss over all his faults. He does not dwell on the man's short comings, but they are a present undercurrent throughout the the book.
But beyond the very positive narrative are instances of poor scholarship and subpar research. When Boyd gets to Washington in 1966 the author claims that the WWII generals who led the USAF were being replaced by Air Force Academy grads. Seeing that the first class graduated in 1959 it's absurd to say they were replacing the generals just 7 years after commissioning. There is also an utter failure to mention the six weeks of heavy aerial bombing that preceded the Left Hook and 100 hour ground campaign during Desert Storm. This is not to diminish the brilliant success of the guys on the ground, but air power dealt a critical blow to Saddam's forces and shaped the outcome of the war. Finally, there was a technically puzzling statement that the B-1 had trouble clearing high terrain when fully loaded. Operations in Afghanistan have put any such claims to rest.
Admittedly, the David versus Goliath theme of the book paints the senior military leadership, and especially that of the Air Force, in a shameful light. As an Air Force officer and pilot, perhaps I should take more umbrage at Coram's apparent slandering. However, considering the AH-56 vs A-10 fight, the recent C-27J debacle, the multiple attempts to retire the A-10, and the long-standing institutional attitude toward close air support, it is impossible to dismiss his critiques as baseless or implausible. But, this book will not improve anyone's opinion of the USAF or greater military-industrial complex.
Overall, this is an excellent read and the impact of Boyd's work has clearly spread well beyond the battlefield, much like Sun Tzu. (Whether the two men are truly equals is a debate for another forum.) Without a doubt, reading about the bombastic guerrilla fighter pilot and his work/theories would be well worth anyone's time.