Sunday, 16 December 2012

Book review: Science, Strategy and War

For quite some time Science, Strategy and War by Frans Osinga has been an enforced part of my anti library. This was largely because on the occasions I had tried to read it I found I lacked the appropriate reference points to fully understand the text, and I'd step back with a firm mind to try it again later. Turns out that third time is the charm, and fully enabled in the post Boyd and Beyond world I was finally able to fully enjoy this text.

The goal of Science, Strategy and War is to chart the part of Boyd's life which is alluded to in his biographies, his intellectual journey. Boyd was a prolific reader, covering a vast range of seemingly disparate and often esoteric topics. Osinga is superb at exploring the reason for this, Boyd was a synthesist, able to de-construct concepts into their fundamental parts and reassemble them into new forms. Was he always perfect in his understanding? No, there is evidence of bias, selective reasoning and misunderstanding in Boyd's work, particularly his earlier works when he was seeking to prove a point rather than explore a theory of learning.

Osinga's skill here is in drawing the reader along a chain of intellectual developments that Boyd went through, without losing their essence. Too often a book of this type reduces the concepts it explores to the point of absurdity and the reader gains nothing real. In this case concepts are rendered to their essential essence, but no mercy is given to the reader. You'll want to read this book with an internet connection close to hand to do further reading at times.

The book demonstrates skilfully that Boyd's theories cannot be summed up in the OODA loop, which again, is a tool that can be rendered down to something pointless. It also seeks to demonstrate that the OODA loop isn't intended to be used purely to encourage speed, rather it is intended to provide swift and accurate decision making within the confines of an evolving (informed by the loop) strategy. All within a single structure. This is something I've personally struggled with, perhaps because my personal experience and context for the loop is in high pressure, speed obsessed environments.

I can't recommend this book highly enough to anyone who works in an environment in which strategy is more than just a word appended to any action. It is a critical part of understanding Boyd as well, since it places him in his intellectual environment in a way not available through his biographies. For me it sits nearly in the big three books on Boyd, the others being Boyd by Robert Coram and Certain to Win by Chet Richards.

Get this book.
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