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 lists 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, this list 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).  All of these briefings as well as Boyd's personal papers, notes, and books can be found in the John Boyd Archive maintained by the  Marine Corps University Library, Quantico, Virginia off Route 95 south of Washington DC

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).

Other entries in the compendium include papers and books explicating or expanding on various aspects of Boyd ideas.

Books and extended essays -- from layman to professional:

Robert Coram, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War: With sales approaching 200,000, 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.

Marine Major PJ Tremblay: Shaping and Adapting: Unblocking the Power of John Boyd's OODA Loop. This is a thesis written in partial completion of a masters degree; it provides an excellent and readable introduction to the use of an OODA Loop as a frame of reference at the tactical level of combat.  Tremblay actually used Boyd's ideas in both the planning and execution of a stunningly successful tactical assault by a reinforced infantry company in Afghanistan. This thesis earned Major Tremblay the Colonel F. Brooke Nihart Writing Award in 2015, presented in honor of the late Colonel Nihart.  The award is made annually to the Marine infantry officer at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College whose Master of Military Studies paper demonstrates the greatest depth of scholarship, clarity, and originality.

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.