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The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor
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The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  907 ratings  ·  161 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 209 pages
Published January 11th 2005 by Villard (first published March 2nd 2004)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,645)
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Holly
You know, I was never once able to successfully assemble a Lego construction according to the instructions provided in a kit. Meanwhile, this 14-year-old kid back in the mid-90s started off going for his Atomic Energy Merit Badge as part of his larger quest to become an Eagle Scout, ends up deciding to build his own small-scale breeder reactor in his backyard potting shed, and then through dangerously haphazard means refines and enriches enough radioactive material to put his entire Detroit subu...more
Jfk
Having actually boughten this book, I have a fundamental issue with what to do with a book that I despise. Of course I do not believe in the destruction of books, however I feel donation or resale of such material would be irresponsible on my part. So it remains on my bookshelf, a royal buzz kill among fine memories and reference books.

Ken Silverstein expanded this book out of a magazine article. Honestly, that's where it should have stayed. There is not enough content to support the 200 pages...more
Catten
Imagine the junior high class geek, a chemistry fiend who talks elemental tables and enjoys nothing more than a heated discussion on the merits of plutonium.

Now imagine that he lives in your neighborhood. He reads every chemistry book he can get his hands on and eventually begins devouring texts on nuclear physics-and understands them. His all-time heroes are Marie and Pierre Curie.

His father, who long ago fell behind in following his son's passion, signs his little darling up with the Boy Scout...more
Eric Bingham
This was an interesting history of nuclear energy and of the character who became known as "the radioactive boy scout." I have 2 complaints with the book. First, David Hahn (the radioactive boy scout,) annoyed me to no end. He has the strength of being very determined to accomplish his task of building a nuclear reactor, but he fails in every other aspect of life. He is a lying, cheating, thieving, lazy, dangerous individual who has convinced himself that he is better than everyone around him. H...more
Palisade
I love any book that can hold my attention for over 5 minutes
Raina
I checked this out looking for fun nonfiction to booktalk to teens. It was listed on one of the best-of nonfiction lists for teens from ALA. It's an expansion of an article the author wrote for Harper's Magazine. And it felt like it. It felt like there was this core story, then a lot of extra information that wasn't necessarily crucial for the story to be told. Silverstein goes into detail about the history of the Boy Scouts, of the atomic energy movement in the United States, a tonne of detail...more
Christina Wilder
"This article is being reprinted here as an example of what NOT to do with radioactive materials. Please
do NOT attempt to recreate any part of these experiments for the following reasons: You will most
likely poison yourself and/or others. Nobody really needs an unsafe homemade reactor (especially one
made of duct tape and foil)"

This is the warning posted on the website Dangerous Laboratories, a firm who "specializes in
do-it-yourself scientific, industrial, and alternative energy projects". It go...more
Kevin
This guys is a genius. The is the story of how a high school student makes a somewhat working model of a breeder reactor in his back yard. The model worked enough to produce strong amounts of radioactivity that was growing day by day. You might ask yourself "Where did he get the radioactive material?" That is the essence of the book. He found small amount of materials in everyday consumer products (some new, some old). These products provided the base material that was fashioned into the proper...more
Taz Boot
Ken Silverstein’s book, The Radioactive Boy Scout tells the story of David Hahn, from when he was a kid to when he created a breeder reactor in his backyard. David’s story starts from when he was young, because he grew up in an unstable home. His father was aloof and rarely took part in his son’s upbringing, and his mother’s heart was in the right place but she was a slightly mentally unstable alcoholic. This led to him being unsupervised, unfocused in school, and unpopular among his peers. The...more
Pamela
Much like Preston's Hotzone, this true story reads like a fictional thriller. David Hahn, an introverted teenager growing up near Detroit, began an obsessive focus on science. With no parental or adult supervision or concern, David was left free to research and create chemical experiments that often ended with injuries to himself or damage to his home. When his father pushed him into Boy Scouts, David discovered his knowledge easily helped him obtain several science related merit badges. But the...more
Tyler Barney
Tyler Barney
Mr. Daniel
E201
8 April 2014
The Radioactive Boy Scout

The Radioactive Boy Scout is a nonfiction story about David Hahn. David is a teenager who has a passion for chemistry. His dad is a chemistry professor and David loved reading his college books to learn about chemistry. This love for science sparked him to do some experimenting, yet this was no ordinary experimenting. David tried to make a neutron gun and later made a breeder reactor. Just before he could complete his reactor, word...more
Christine
This is a great non-fiction read. It tells the story of David Hahn who attempted to build a nuclear breeder reactor in a backyard shed. He nearly succeeded. The book gets a bit technical for non-science types like me, but David's story keeps you reading. You have to wonder what this boy, now a man, could have done with any kind of effective parenting or the slightest mentoring from teachers and other adults he encountered along the way. A fascinating book.
Chris
A very enjoyable read. I'm not much of a science fan but I found the explanations within the book easy to understand and the story itself interesting and very readable.

David Hahn (the boyscout of the title) was facinated with science and decided to build his own nuclear reactor in his garden shed. It was frightening how easy it was for him to collect enough radioactive material to actually pull it off! (including removing small amounts from household items such as americium from smoke detectors,...more
Ignacio
"The Radioactive Boy Scout" by Ken Silverstein is an event-based account of the life of David Hahn, a teen whiz who almost caused a nuclear meltdown in his hometown. "While he was working on his Atomic Energy badge for the Boy Scouts...he plunged into a new project: building a model nuclear reactor in his backyard." The early parts of the novel describe David's struggles as a youth: how he was ridiculed for spending hoursin his room, and how his parents tried to refocus David's energy. Later, Si...more
Kay
Sep 07, 2014 Kay marked it as to-read
Shelves: nonfiction, science
Picked this up in Los Alamos... where else!?
Josephine
Don't let my three-star review put you off: for me this was a fun bit of fluff, but I'd heartily recommend it for teenagers...which is where the library from which I checked it out had placed it.

Rest assured that the boy didn't actually build a functioning reactor in his back yard; he just tried really hard. What was frightening was how easily he did get quite a substantial amount of radioactive substances (old clocks and watches with radium dials, smoke detectors which used americium, mantles f...more
MisterFweem
Ken Silverstein, in sneering at the go-go attitude toward nuclear power and chemistry that lures young David Hahn, along with his own absurd overconfidence, into building his own model breeder reactor, shows the folly of both overzeal in science and the underwhelming turpidity in which science is accepted by the elite or the masses when all they can see are the flaws, not the benefits.

That odd conflicted attitude unintentionally underlies Silverstein's true tale of a Michigan kid who does build...more
Rachel
Despite a marginally sympathetic ending, I profoundly disliked the author's tone and anti-science bias in this book. His approach ran to fear-mongering and insulting descriptions of anyone involved, particularly if they dared to enjoy the Science. Anyone with an interest in chemistry or engineering (or tech of any kind, really) was portrayed as odd or defective.

I caught one outright error along those lines - he pans the Boy Scout pamphlet about atomic energy for not mentioning Chernobyl, despit...more
David
This book details the exploits of David Hahn, a smart, ambitious, but tragically unguided kid who decided to try to build his own breeder reactor. He collected and purified radioactive material from old luminescent clocks, smoke detectors, and gas lantern mantles, eventually accumulating enough to seriously contaminate his parents' backyard shed and require an EPA cleanup to protect the rest of the neighborhood.

David's story is an amazing one, and Ken does a pretty good job telling it. However,...more
Ilya
As a teenager, David Hahn (no relation to Otto Hahn), who was born in Detroit in 1977, was obsessed with chemistry and radiation to the exclusion of everything else. His father was an engineer who designed welding robots and his mother an uneducated amateur artist; they divorced and remarried to, respectively, another engineer and a truck driver. When he was 16, David decided to build a breeder nuclear reactor in a shed near his mother's second husband's house. He obtained americium from 100 wat...more
Nicole
This book started out as a magazine article, and I'm pretty sure it was a GREAT article. As a book, it's only mediocre. Kind of unfocused - long stretches of back story on nuclear power, the Boy Scouts of America, etc. I usually love this sort of detail, but here the presentation is either dry/boring or weirdly axe-grindy. I agree that the collusion b/t the production and regulation arms of the nuclear power body is disgusting, and that the Boy Scouts organization skews conservative...but it's a...more
Craig
This book is the story of a young man who became completely obsessed with chemistry as a preteen, and, once introduced to the concept of atomic power, abandoned nearly every other aspect of his life to pursue the creation of nuclear energy, all by himself. Rather than confiding in adults with experience or seeking guidance from same, young David generates layers of deceit and disguise in his quest to gather the materials necessary to slake his radioactive thirst. He readily admits that his motiv...more
Jesus Q
The book I just finished reading is The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein. I saw the novel in my sister's book shelf and what attracted me was that in the cover it said it is based on a true story. I looked it up online to see if it was based on a true story and sure enough it was. I also thought to my self that the kid build a nuclear warhead or an avant garde bomb, even though it clearly says he build a homemade nuclear reactor.
David Hahn is a suburb kid who even though he can't real...more
Dan Gerdes
The book "The Nuclear Boy Scout" was a very good book. There were some technical terms about it that it didn't understand but other than that it was a good read. I would definitely suggest this to anyone if they were looking for a good nonfiction book. I can tell the author was dedicated to finding out all of the facts and knowledge that he needed to write this book due to how in his writing he seems to know David Hahn personally rather than seeming like he just read about him. By reading this b...more
John Mahoney
This was an interesting book. The main character, David Hahn, is a high school student in the Detroit area. He has a massive obsession for chemistry, and spends hours in his bedroom and in an abandoned potting shed conducting dangerous experiments. He injures himself many times, and people begin to become suspicious. He is able to "get away" with more stuff by pretending that he needs controlled materials for a Boy Scout project. He kills two birds with one stone with the Boy Scouts, because it...more
Alexander Arcasoy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Connor Tebelman
David Hahn was a Michigan schoolboy who fantasized about trying to build a fast breeder reactor in his garden shed. Having educated himself by reading Popular Mechanics and the Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, he wrote off as a certain Professor Hahn for technical advice and help in obtaining radioactive materials. What he could not get from laboratory suppliers, universities, and hospitals. He made it all by himself himself.
He collected household smoke detectors, and extracted americium 2...more
Jessica Franco
This biography, based off of articles and interviews with the subject and those close to him, tells the life of David Hahn and his short lived but deadly nuclear reactor. The novel followed from his early childhood, explaining his fascination with science and why his experiments were possible, to his recent career in the navy. It especially focuses on the role of Boy Scouts in his life: from fueling his interest to a cover for his experiments. The book was written to include extensive informati...more
Jan Bednarczuk
This was really two books, smashed into one. One book is the story of David Hahn, the so-called "radioactive Boy Scout." The other book, much less interesting, is the history of the Boy Scouts of America and the nuclear power industry in the United States. I suspect that most of the Boy Scouts and nuke stuff were added solely to pad the book out and give it some length, because Hahn's story alone isn't really enough to warrant an entire book.

That said, Hahn's story is fascinating, and I had trou...more
Robin
I picked this one up on a whim when it first came out, attracted to the title. It reminded me of that cheesy '80s movie, The Manhattan Project . Unfortunately, this was not nearly as entertaining or interesting. The majority of the book felt like filler. Did I need/want a brief history of the nuclear age? Or a course on the origins of the Boy Scouts and scouting morality? No. And it was difficult trudging through some of that stuff to get to what I wanted to read about: the kid who tried to buil...more
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