Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War is the biography of John Boyd, a man unknown to most. He was a maverick fighter pilot who spent his whole career fighting the military establishment. But who changed the way that we design airplanes, fight wars and even how people think. As a fighter pilot, John Boyd was unbeatable in the air. So good they called him ‘Forty-Second Boyd’ because that’s all he needed to ‘hose’ you.

What is it About?


It’s a book about the madness of bureaucracy. How people in positions of power will resist ideas that challenge and bring change. You might think that the military’s primary goal would be to win wars with the least loss of life possible. Author Robert Coram demonstrates otherwise. Prestige and power seem the main concern in the Pentagon.

The Pentagon is a labyrinth that thrives on infighting and jousting for position. Generals rule like gods and if you want to work your way up the chain you better jump the way they say. Boyd stood out by caring more about making a difference than making a career.

Boyd is a man who inspired fierce loyalty and love in the men he trained and worked with. The ‘Fighter Mafia’ that he lead was an underground group in the Pentagon. They worked to improve the design of new aircraft while knowing their careers were at risk. But Boyd was also a poor father and husband who neglected his family.

The amount of research that has gone into this book is obvious. Boyd did not leave a lot of writing behind for scholars to study. Most of his work went into the verbal ‘briefings’ that the military uses to spread ideas. Instead author Robert Coram interviewed dozens of people who knew Boyd. This gives the book a comforting friendliness, like you know John. And like him despite his quirks.

Coram keeps the structure of the book simple and straightforward. He tells the story of John Boyd’s life from birth to death. But it never feels boring. I guess he left those bits out. It reads like a string of stories that flow seamlessly into each other.

Should I Read Boyd?

John Boyd was an amazing man and this is an excellent book. I will reading more of Robert Corams work and looking deeper into Boyd. The  find the idea of the OODA loop fascinating and I’m interested in how it’s applied in other areas than combat.

Does Boyd sound like a book that interests you? Let me know in the comments.

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