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The Radioactive Boy Scout: The True Story of a Boy and His Backyard Nuclear Reactor [Kindle Edition]

Ken Silverstein
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: CDN$ 13.99 includes free international wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet
Sold by: Random House Canada, Incorp.
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In the summer of 1995, a teenager in a Detroit suburb, a mediocre student with a relentless scientific curiosity, managed to build a rudimentary nuclear breeder reactor in a shed behind his mother's house, using radioactive elements obtained from items as ordinary as smoke detectors. He got so far along in his efforts that when the Feds finally caught up with him, the EPA used Superfund money (usually spent on the worst hazardous waste sites) to clean up the shed. Building on a Harper's article, Silverstein, an investigative reporter for the L.A. Times, fleshes out David Hahn's atomic escapades, and though it takes a while for the story to kick into gear, readers will be sucked in not just by how Hahn did it but how he was able to get away with it. His "pathologically oblivious" father comes in for the sharpest criticism, but Silverstein takes note of the teachers who failed to pick up on Hahn's cues (his friends called him "glow boy") and the Department of Energy official who offered crucial tips on creating a neutron gun. Silverstein also examines the pronuclear ideology Hahn picked up in the Boy Scouts (where he had earned an atomic energy merit badge) and dated government publications that touted nuclear power while glossing over setbacks in the troubled breeder reactor program. And though there's little mention of how easily terrorists could duplicate Hahn's feat, perhaps the accomplishment of one obsessed teen is scary enough in its own right.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–After his grandfather gave him a used copy of The Golden Book of Chemistry,David Hahn became obsessed with science and conducting his own experiments. As an Eagle Scout, he began work on the Atomic Energy badge by making a model of a nuclear reactor. Not satisfied with that, he set out to build a real one. He read voraciously and scavenged for materials, finding some of the items he needed in gas-lantern mantels and smoke detectors. By posing as a professor, he used the Nuclear Regulatory Agency to get much of the information that he needed. And in the summer after his junior year in high school, he nearly succeeded in building a reactor in the potting shed behind his house. He created a site so hazardous that it became an EPA's Superfund site. Silverstein writes in a light, easy-to-read style even as he explains the atomic theory behind Hahn's experiments. He sees the young man's dysfunctional family and his teachers' lack of time or interest in finding out more about "Glow Boy's" pursuits as the framework for Hahn's misguided conduct. Readers will have plenty to think about and discuss after reading this amazing tale of an adolescent loner's single-minded pursuit of a dangerous goal.–Jane S. Drabkin, Chinn Park Regional Library, Woodbridge, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 403 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (March 2 2004)
  • Sold by: Random House Canada, Incorp.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FC1AJS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #818,577 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading even with author bias June 4 2004
This book is worth reading and is very informative. The only down side is the obvious negative bias the author has toward nuclear engery in general and the Boy Scouts in particular. The story of David Hahn is truly an amazing story of a young and gifted young man who is in a troubled family situation. He finds in science and chemistry a world of discovery that becomes an outlet of his hopes and dreams. His knowledge of chemistry and initative does protect lives when a chemical spill occurs in a retail skill. The author does capture the highly dangerous nature of what David is doing with nuclear chemistry, but misses a more significant point. Not only does David do what no other teenager has ever done, he does it with creativity, persistence and faith in a higher good. While David does make errors in judgement in his quest for a breeder reactor, in the end he stops the experiment and dismantles the nuclear apparatus when he realizes that the reaction might be going out of control and is a risk to the community. Those values are just as much the governing principals of scouting as the emphasis that scouting places on self-reliance which is also demonstrated by David.
Read the book, but keep in mind that the author Silverstein has his own set of biases as he describes a truly amazing and unique story of a young man's journey to adulthood through his backyard lab.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Caveat Emptor May 28 2004
By A Customer
After reading a positive review of "The Radioactive Boy Scout," I bought a copy without first scanning a few pages. Such a blind purchase is against my usual practice, because I have learned how overhyped many new books are. I found the book well-nigh unreadable because it is so poorly written and edited. It reads like breathless pulp fiction and is written at about that level of intellect. It contains numerous grammatical and other writing errors; they made me wince throughout the book. Moreover, the author seems to have had little real information about and even less understanding of the people involved. His analyses of them and the setting of the events are simplistic and cliched: the awfulness of the suburbs, the challenges to children of divorce, that sort of thing. (Do you think that the impressions of your high school teachers would help readers understand you?) The timeline is unintelligible, with a muddle of the concepts and events of more than five decades.
The book is described as having arisen from the idea of a publisher's editor, who contacted the author for an expansion after reading his initial article about the Boy Scout. That probably explains to a great extent why the book is so padded with pat recitations of the history of the nuclear age. I suspect that the review I read was prompted only by the reviewer's politics, which is unprofessional and unfair to readers.
All in all, the product seems to reflect little but laziness. That's a shame because an insightful and careful analysis of the case might have been a good contribution to the literature of the nuclear debate.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Being left out of the equation. April 6 2004
This book was quite scary. And it wasn't even fiction, which made it all the more frightening. (I also found it equally as frightening that at least two of the previous reviewers spelled "Manhattan" incorrectly as "Manhatten." It's called a dictionary. Look into it.)
In addition to hearing about how seemingly easy it was for David Hahn, the radioactive boy scout described in the title, to obtain radioactive materials from regular, nonrestricted products, I was just as surprised and shocked to hear about some of the other, larger nuclear accidents of the past few decades, some of them not well publicized.
While I was aware of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and some of the others, there were incidents from the 1960s such as the British Windscale plant and the breeder reactor around Detroit, which I'd never heard of.
(While the author is at it, he might look at Brookhaven National Labs in NY. Given the cancer clusters in the areas around it, I'm sure there's a book there too.)
I did see that the main story of David Hahn didn't take up a huge amount of space and that there was some padding with other, related material. However, I don't think that diminishes the impact of the story. The lesson here is that while nuclear planners have strategies for regulated, large-scale nuclear accidents, small-scale efforts by individuals seem to have been left out of the equation entirely.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Atom is Our Friend March 28 2004
There's something not quite serious about The Radioactive Boy Scout. The book jacket has a cartoonish design and each page has a little atomic symbol by the page number. It's a small book, almost like a children's reader. It seemed to me as if it would be a quick, fun read.
Well, it was quick, all right. Author Ken Silverstein originally wrote this as an article for Harper's Magazine, according to the blurb. The article has been padded with several chapters on nuclear power, chemistry, and the history of the Boy Scouts. But The Radioactive Boy Scout is hardly a cartoon or a fun little story.
Although this is a story about how one teenager nearly built a nuclear reactor in his back yard, Silverstein wants us to know it is more than that. He emphasizes how David Hahn, the teenager, was neglected by his parents and not taken seriously by his teachers. If only someone had taken the time to take this boy under his wing, perhaps a near-disaster could have been averted. Certainly, the fact that there was no disaster takes the edge off the story, but unfortunately, we already know what can happen when teenagers don't get the attention they need.
I enjoyed the main story as well as the chapters on science and the Boy Scouts. Silverstein describes how radium-based products were sold in the early 20th century as tonics, lotions, and even suppositories, to improve one's health. He recalls filmstrips (remember?) and pamphlets that cheerfully told us to "duck and cover" in the event of a nuclear explosion. He uses a hilarious passage from P.G. Wodehouse to illustrate a common view of the Boy Scouts in their early days.
Although I share most of Silverstein's opinions on federal government, the nuclear power industry, the Boy Scouts, and inattentive parents, I think the story would have been more effective if he had left his editorial comments out. Describing David's father as "pathologically oblivious" is unnecessary. True, but unnecessary.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars The Library Wasted it's Money
Apparently the author had some extra facts on the history of nuclear power, the boy scouts, and a human intrest story that he couldn't sell. So what is a person to do? Read more
Published on July 2 2004 by Michael Stahlman
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing story!
This book was just amazing. I couldn't believe that this kid really built a reactor in his mothers shed. What was really amazing was that he was never charged with any crime. Read more
Published on June 29 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Not related to Boy Scouts
I really liked the story. Unfortunately, the author seemed very biased against the Boy Scouts. Linking the boy's activities to scouting activities was REALLY a stretch. Read more
Published on June 28 2004 by Cindy
3.0 out of 5 stars The Author
The book itself is good, the story is fine, but the way is written is terriable and they author uses the word "hence" almost every 2 pages.
Published on June 17 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps a good magazine article...
The central story of "The Radioactive Boy Scout" would make for an interesting short story, but is too thin to have been turned in to a novel. Read more
Published on June 15 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing and Entertaining
The book works on several levels. It's informative in detailing precisely how the boy obtained and used the materials in his nuclear experiments. Read more
Published on June 4 2004 by GF
1.0 out of 5 stars Where is Golf Manor, MI?????
I'm from suburban Detroit and had never heard of this story. (Maybe we were on vacation at the time.) I was not aware of it until a review of the book in DISCOVER this month. Read more
Published on May 31 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read, but over-editorialized
Silverstein does a decent job of relaying a fascinating story; the book is a quick read and moves along smoothly. Read more
Published on May 23 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite a Tale
The Radioactive Boy Scout is quite a tale--intelligently written, thorough and pretty darn scary when you get right down to it. Read more
Published on April 29 2004 by Elizabeth Hendry
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy, quick read
I really enjoyed reading this book and found the story to be quite interesting. The story is not all that involved, so the author intersperses the storyline with chapters on... Read more
Published on April 16 2004
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