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Book Review - Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War

2019-07-17

This is the first biography that I’ve read in a long time. I came across it via a reference in another book, where it was strongly recommended. After reading it I would also recommend it strongly. It’s a powerful story of someone who cared deeply about the work he did and has influenced the world greatly.

Reading this book left quite an impression on me for a number of reasons. Not having any experience in the military or a similiar service where the “call” isn’t to induce profit, I was moved to read the story of someone who took his calling deadly seriously. John Boyd fought not only enemies in the sky as a fighter pilot in the Air Force, but also fought the giant bureaucracy that is the Pentagon and the military establishment.

While the book catalogs the incredible accomplishments that Boyd made during his service in the military, the truly amazing part was his energy and dedication to helping America, and it’s soldiers, be prepared and capable of defeating it’s enemies in battle. Despite the setbacks he faced, and the opposition to him within the military establishment (due to a number of reasons), Boyd fought the good fight.

Boyd’s contributions to the modern world and the American military and its allies is an example of what dedication to a mission can accomplish. His work, both within the military and outside of it, is truly remarkable. He basically revolutionized air-to-air combat, the design of airplanes (with his E-M theory), and he heavily influenced the way war is conducted. His OODA loop (this book is the first time I heard of it) apparently is taught far and wide in many industries and businesses.

Boyd accomplished all of this (with the help of his acolytes) despite reportedly having a below average IQ, and never raising above the rank of Colonel. His battles against the establishment for what he believed was right resulted in the Air Force basically disowning him, despite the fact he was basically responsible for the fundamental design of some of it’s most effective air craft, and wrote the bible on air-to-air combat.

The beginning of the book foreshadows the battles and their results when it shows Boyd, a retired Air Force pilot, being essentially shunned by the Air Force at his funeral, while at the same time being given the highest honor a Marine can receive despite having never been a Marine.

Boyd was a warrior and this book shows that. Despite his many enemies, his dedication and the fact that he was usually right, resulted in him being able to pull some powerful strings and move the largest bureaucracy in the world to occasionally do the right thing.

Unfortunately while he tirelessly worked to improve the armed forces, he was basically negligent to his wife and children, and his personality greatly contributed to many of his difficulties.

While this is a remarkable story about someone who is not known well enough, it is also a story about the military, politics, and bureaucracy. The story it tells here is ominous in many ways.

I would definitely recommend reading this book, it’s one of the better books I’ve read in a long time, and it’s about an American hero.