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The Radioactive Boy Scout: The True Story of…
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The Radioactive Boy Scout: The True Story of a Boy and His Backyard… (2004)

by Ken Silverstein

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4661933,409 (3.77)29
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This cautionary tale of a teenaged Michigan chemistry enthusiast who managed to construct a rudimentary nuclear reactor in his shed incorporates digressions about tangents such as the quest for the breeder reactor, America's enthusiasm for radioactive consumer products a century ago, and a history of the atomic bomb. These are necessary to bring the book up to a scant 200 pages; the teen's story is interesting enough, but really only worthy of a long magazine article in and of itself. The author clearly finds the episode troubling, and quite rightly so; our mad scientist was thwarted quite by accident during a routine traffic stop when the police found an aggregation of junk he had in his trunk and thought it might be a bomb, and, even then, it took authorities months to discover the reactor, and the secrecy-obsessed EPA cleanup crew came within a couple of hours of destroying the radioactive shed without media showing up. Both the main story and the digressions are interestingly related, and the author explains the chemistry involved in the story very clearly, directly, and briefly. ( )
  Big_Bang_Gorilla | Aug 15, 2018 |
This kid was CRAZY and his parents were so checked out and clueless. He could have radiated the whole town! And the fact that a sixteen year old kid could get a hold of such heavy elements--even plutonium, radium and uranium!!!! ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
This kid was CRAZY and his parents were so checked out and clueless. He could have radiated the whole town! And the fact that a sixteen year old kid could get a hold of such heavy elements--even plutonium, radium and uranium!!!! ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
Ok, 'not the best researched or written investigative report, but it is a fast, entertaining read and a 5-star topic. I mean really, 'building a nuclear breeder reactor by a troubled teenager, in a Detroit suburb shed, inspired by a merit badge? ( )
1 vote Sandydog1 | Jul 19, 2015 |
I couldn't stop reading this odd and scary true story. David, the mad scientist kid, is so single-minded that it's almost surreal. He takes risks that are unforgivable. I'm using the present tense because it's clear from the afterword that he's still collecting radium and other radioactive stuff. His family dynamic is a train wreck, his teachers mostly absent or oblivious, and the whole is a tragedy. The writing is magazine-style, very readable but not particularly noteworthy. An interesting if repelling read. ( )
1 vote satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Like Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief, which sprouted from The New Yorker, The Radioactive Boy Scout originated as a mesmerizing magazine story (published in Harper's) and has been padded to book-length. Do we really need a mini-history of nuclear power plants? Still, Silverstein, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, keeps the narrative snappy, with many telling details and just the right touch of sensationalism to remind readers that what Hahn accomplished was truly surreal.
 
Journalist Ken Silverstein gathered material from extensive interviews with David and his family and from police and EPA reports about this backyard experiment. The story appeared as a Harper's Magazine article in 1998, and now Silverstein has expanded it into some 200 pages.
 
Though David's character is overshadowed by the science, Silverstein's details of atomic history are fascinating.
 
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David Hahn's earliest memory seems appropriate in light of later events; it is of conducting an experiment in the bathroom when he was perhaps four years old.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812966600, Paperback)

Growing up in suburban Detroit, David Hahn was fascinated by science. While he was working on his Atomic Energy badge for the Boy Scouts, David’s obsessive attention turned to nuclear energy. Throwing caution to the wind, he plunged into a new project: building a model nuclear reactor in his backyard garden shed.

Posing as a physics professor, David solicited information on reactor design from the U.S. government and from industry experts. Following blueprints he found in an outdated physics textbook, David cobbled together a crude device that threw off toxic levels of radiation. His wholly unsupervised project finally sparked an environmental emergency that put his town’s forty thousand suburbanites at risk. The EPA ended up burying his lab at a radioactive dumpsite in Utah. This offbeat account of ambition and, ultimately, hubris has the narrative energy of a first-rate thriller.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:00 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Growing up in suburban Detroit, David Hahn was fascinated by science, and his basement experiments were far more ambitious than those of other boys. While working on his Atomic Energy merit badge for the Boy Scouts, David's obsessive attention turned to nuclear energy. Throwing caution to the wind, he plunged into a new project: building a model nuclear breeder reactor in his backyard garden shed. Ken Silverstein re-creates in brilliant detail the months of David's improbable nuclear quest. His unsanctioned and wholly unsupervised project finally sparked an environmental catastrophe that put his town's forty thousand residents at risk and caused the EPA to shut down his lab and bury it at a radioactive dumpsite in Utah.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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