Introduction to the Strategic Theories of John Boyd


If you 'google' John Boyd and/or his theory of OODA loop, you will be inundated with references of widely varying in quality.  To help get you going, this page lists a few references that I can vouch for.

Genghis John: A short introduction to the man and his theories; this is my personal remembrance written shortly after Boyd's death for the Proceedings of the Naval Institute, 1997.


This Compendium contains Colonel John Boyd’s briefings on the nature of conflict, strategy, and grand strategy.  This is the corpus of Boyd's work -- and it is highly idiosyncratic and not for the faint hearted; nevertheless, the Compendium is the final authority on what Boyd said about his theories. 


The briefings of conflict and the OODA Loop in the Compendium are grounded in, and wedged between two documents explaining Colonel Boyd's theory of how knowledge evolves and grows:  Destruction and Creation(1976) and in his final briefing, Conceptual Spiral (1992).  These two documents should be thought of as the intellectual bookends to his three briefings of conflict -- i.e., Patterns of Conflict (1986), Organic Design for Command and Control (1987), and Strategic Game of ? and ? (1987)

Some readers may find it difficult to relate these briefings -- especially his discussion of the OODA loop -- to the abstract foundational ideas expressed in the 'bookend' documents.  My briefing, Evolutionary Epistemology, is my personal view of how the OODA loop is grounded in and flows from Colonel Boyd's seminal 1976 paper (and by extension the philosophy embodied in his 1992 briefing).


Books -- from layman to professional:

Robert Coram, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War: With sales approaching 100,000, this highly readable general biography is rapidly becoming a cult classic. It is by far the best and most accessible introduction to Boyd's strategic theories.


Chester Richards, Certain to Win: This short book is a highly readable and original application of Boyd's strategic ideas to economics and business.  Written by a close associate and long time friend of John Boyd after Boyd's death, it is grounded in the author's collaborative work with Boyd that began in the mid 1980s and continued until Boyd's death. It is a great introduction to the generality of Boyd's strategic ideas.

Grant Hammond, The Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security: An introduction and discourse of Boyd's strategic thinking by a national security academic for national security academics; it is based on extensive interviews with Boyd.

Franz Osinga, Science, Strategy, and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd: This book grew out of a PhD dissertation by a Dutch fighter pilot.  Densely written, it is for someone who really wants to immerse him/herself in this subject.  I recommend that readers become familiar with the works in Boyd Compendium before diving into this book.

James Fallows, National Defense: Written in 1981 and out of print, this was the first book length treatment of the military reform movement, of which Boyd was the acknowledged leader.  Highly readable, it was runner up for the prestigious Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction.  A great bookend to Coram's biography.