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Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War Hardcover – November 1, 2002
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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.
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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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.