- 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: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 455 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,246 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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Coram goes through and dissects Boyd's career, without skimping on the negative aspects of his life and gruff approach. Many of the tactics and strategies Boyd reasearchs and applies in his life are uncovered and explained at a high enough level to give insight without interrupting flow. From there you can either jump right in and start applying his methods to your own life or look into the topics in more depth.
Since reading this book I see many parallels to Boyd's work in both business and technology. Anecdotally I find many of the lessons Coram brings to the fore contain large amounts of truth. Sometimes these truths force you to make uncomfortable moral decisions Its not often a book gives intellectual pursuit, actionable tactics and a dose of ethics all together in the one package, but this biography has achieved it. Highly recommended.
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.
Coram does a good job bringing Boyd to life, and a strange life it was - a renown fighter pilot with only a few kills, a fighter instructor who was too late to Korea and almost never made it to Viet Nam, a "dumb" fighter pilot who influenced the design of fighter plans, a rough, irascible man who fostered "Acolytes" who sacrificed careers to follow his ideas. Boyd was complex, difficult in person, absolutely rigid when doing the right thing, seems to have been without empathy or the ability to see another person's viewpoint. He had influence because he had great ideas backed by hard data, and constantly proved the military (especially the procurement side) was overpaying for hardware and underestimating the human component of warfare.
My quibbles with the book have to do with Boyd's backstory. We really learn very little about Boyd's personal life. His wife and children seem to have been almost an afterthought to Boyd according to the book, but we never learn why or how his wife felt about Boyd's overwhelming career focus. The author constantly reminds us about Boyd's shortcomings and is often uses extravagant language when more simple descriptions would suffice. But if you don't know Boyd, this is a great book to pick up, both for the story about Boyd and his thinking, and as a means to uncover the procurement monster that lives in the Pentagon and that Eisenhower warned us about.
Read the book and find out how the F-16 and A-10 were born. Fascinating.