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Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War Hardcover – December, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 379 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

John Boyd (1927-1997) was a brilliant and blazingly eccentric person. He was a crackerjack jet fighter pilot, a visionary scholar and an innovative military strategist. Among other things, Boyd wrote the first manual on jet aerial combat, was primarily responsible for designing the F-15 and the F-16 jet fighters, was a leading voice in the post-Vietnam War military reform movement and shaped the smashingly successful U.S. military strategy in the Persian Gulf War. His writings and theories on military strategy remain influential today, particularly his concept of the "OODA (Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action) Loop," which all the military services-and many business strategists-use to this day. Boyd also was a brash, combative, iconoclastic man, not above insulting his superiors at the Pentagon (both military and civilian); he made enemies (and fiercely loyal acolytes) everywhere he went. His strange, mercurial personality did not mesh with a military career, making his 24 years in the Air Force (1951-1975) difficult professionally and causing serious emotional problems for Boyd's wife and children. Coram's worthy biography is deeply researched and detailed, down to describing the fine technical points of some of Boyd's theories. A Boyd advocate (he "contributed as much to fighter aviation as any man in the history of the Air Force," Coram notes), Coram does not shy away from Boyd's often self-defeating abrasiveness and the neglect and mistreatment of his long-suffering wife and children, and keeps the story of a unique life moving smoothly and engagingly.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The late Colonel John Boyd, United States Air Force, began his career as a supremely proficient fighter pilot in the Korean War, after which he went on to develop the concept of energy maneuvering that has been the basis for fighter tactics and designs for 30 years. He proceeded militantly to advocate simpler fighter designs and attracted a group of like-minded civilian and uniformed reformers, known as the Acolytes, who were mostly as unorthodox as he. After his retirement, he developed strategic concepts based on the velocity of attack, which, while they may not be as original as Coram claims, reminded the armed forces of velocity of attack at a time when they direly needed reminding. On the personal front, Boyd, the product of a dysfunctional family, generated another, which doesn't make pretty reading. The sheer mass of information Coram pumps out requires some military knowledge, if only not to be taken in by all of Coram's claims about Boyd, and such knowledgeable readers will most appreciate this study of an American military reformer. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (December 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316881465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316881463
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (379 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAME on December 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In forty years of adult reading, thousands of books, hundreds of biographies, I have not in my lifetime found a better integration of subject, sources, and scholarship. This book will make anyone laugh, cry, and think. There is a deep spirit in this book, and knowing a little about all of this, I was quite simply stunned by the labor of love this book represents. The author's skill and devotion to "getting it right" is breathtakingly evident across the book. His sources, both those close to the subject and those more distant, have been exhaustively interviewed and the quality of this book is a direct reflection of some of the most serious "homework" I have ever been privileged to read.
On the theory of war, on the original contributions of John Boyd, the book renders a huge service to all military professionals by dramatically expanding what can be known and understood about the Energy-Maneuverability Theory and the nuances of the OODA Loop (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act--for the real Tigers, Observe-od-Act--a faster loop). Two things stuck out, apart from the heroic manner in which Boyd pursued the intellectual side of combat aviation: first, Boyd consistently had his priorities right: people first, ideas second, hardware last--this is the opposite of the existing Pentagon priorities; and second, truth matters--the book has some extraordinary examples of how both the Air Force and the Army falsified numbers, with disastrous results, while also selecting numbers (e.g. choosing to list an aircraft's weight without fuel or missiles, rather than fully loaded, a distortion that will kill aviators later when the aircraft fails under stress).
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Format: Hardcover
When I returned from Vietnam in 1969 to Luke AFB, AZ my Commander was Lt Col Doral Connor who had roomed with John Boyd during a tour in Korea, I believe. He told how his roommate would sit in his room working for hours on mathematical calculations involving air-to-air engagements. Col Connor was a tactical weapons controller, as was I, and had a good understanding of what Boyd was trying to accomplish. My next involvement with Boyd's work on Energy Maneuverability (EM) was when I attended the Air National Guard (ANG) Fighter Weapons School (FWS) at Tucson, AZ, and also when Steve Hepburn and I served as the principal radar weapons controllers for the F-15 Operational Test & Evaluation. It was during that period that I was sent TDY to Nellis AFB to become certified as an Aggressor Controller with the 64th. Based upon this background, and after reading Bob Coram's book, "Boyd" I can say the first half of the book is both very accurate and extremely well done. And If I had never gone to Air Force Project Checkmate in 1978 where I worked for 8 years I could give Coram's work nothing but a rave review. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Things are not always what they seem, and this book clearly overlooks several important points when it comes to the Reformists, including Boyd. Anyone going back and reading the material released by the Reformist at the time would see that they were against the whole concept of complex technology. The same technology that permitted striking results during Desert Storm and numerous other lesser engagements. Boyd's single focus on air-to-air overlooked the importance of accuracy during air-to-ground. For example, those hard points on the F-16 and the avionics added weight, which Boyd and the Reformists fought.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This book surpassed my expectations, I have a few quibbles with it, but nothing to lower it from a fully deserved 5 stars.

John Boyd was apparently an arrogant, stubborn, and brilliant man. I'm not sure I would want to work for him or with him, and I certainly would not want to be one of his children, but America needs more like him.

Boyd struck me as a real life version of The Fountainhead's Howard Roark. I found his example to be inspirational. The explanation of his "To be or to do" speech is worth reading the entire book, and in his life he personified the message of this speech.

Strictly speaking Colonel Boyd wanted "to do" something for America and the Air Force, and chose to make sacrifices, endured much abuse, and repeatedly jeopardized his career with that goal in mind. He purposely chose "to do" something, rather than "to be" somebody, which he defined as one who gives up his integrity to get ahead in the system. This insight is one that applies not only to the military but to any organization. It is the fundamental choice that everyone has to make, and hearing of his successes against the system has encouraged me to follow his example, if only in some small measure.

Everyone in business, the government, or the military should read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Robert Corum has done a masterly job in writing and telling a true to life story of what the United States culturally says it admires in people-intelligence, hard work and truth! The story of John Boyd should be read by as many people as possible, beginning with those aspiring to be leaders in both the military and civilian sectors. Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art of War will begin a national renaissance in truth telling and seeking responsibility to stem the tide against our great nation becoming a 4th Century Rome.
In reality, as Corum points out in page after page, the culture does not hold those like Boyd as the epitome of honor and selfless service. Instead, he retired a colonel (despite an incredible contribution to Air Force Fighter aviation and the theories of the art of war) and his family in poverty. But Boyd's greatest achievement of riches came not in the form of tangibles known greedily as money and property, but in the intangibles he achieved, a devoted following-the "Acolytes"-from talented men who are the true defenders of the Constitution; and who in the pursuit of truth, attempt to force the military establishment to provide our servicemen the leaders, doctrine and equipment they need to do their mission. Boyd set the heroic example for others to emulate as they desire to call themselves professionals against the tide of dishonesty; against those who are the worse when they say they speak of truth, yet practice something mendacious in promoting themselves.
In light of the great popularity that the defense establishment now holds in the eyes of a novice and ignorant public, this book is a warning, maybe belatedly late one at that, given the timing of the war with Iraq.
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