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

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,663 ratings  ·  277 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 on
Hardcover, 209 pages
Published June 21st 2004 by Fourth Estate (first published March 2nd 2004)
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Mike David Hahns is the main character

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Average rating 3.72  · 
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 ·  1,663 ratings  ·  277 reviews

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Apr 03, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” - Isaac Asimov

This book is a demonstration of how an individual can be brilliant in some aspects, yet can be entirely misguided because of his or her willful or unknowing ignorance of the world outside of their particular focus. Achievements in science can do nothing positive for the world if subjects such as ethics and culture are not considered when putting the knowledge or creation to
Feb 01, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fluff
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
Apr 26, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Cassie Rae
Jul 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
OK, this young man's story is fascinating. What he was able to do just doesn't seem possible. The author's description of it was detailed and absorbing. The background on nuclear energy in this country and the world, its reception was also one of my favorite parts of the book. It is frightening to learn how laissez-faire we were and in some ways still are about it. However, what was not as well-researched was the subject's context. It became very repetitive- I get it; he has absentee, naive pare ...more
Feb 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is really crazy: A high schooler built a nuclear device that actually worked, well enough that the EPA had to seize this, then dispose of the materials. Hard to imagine, and it did, in fact, happen.

Reminds me of building ham radios in the late 1960's. Then, you could get old TV sets for nothing, tear them apart, and have everything you needed to create a working radio. Every completed project had to go through a "smoke test" when you powered it up for the first time. True to form, smoke is
Oct 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Absolutely fascinating story told in a lackluster way. (and an audiobook performance that is the second worse I've ever heard)

Silverstein seemed to miss the obvious conclusion: that David Hahn was utterly failed by his indifferent family and a public school system totally incapable of dealing with a brilliant non-conformist. Had someone (family, teacher or scoutmaster) paid enough attention, they could have seen that his passion and enthusiasm were encouraged and channeled in a constructive way.
Dec 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 26, 2010 rated it really liked it

This book intrigued me, but I found it to be a rather sad story.

The young man who experimented with trying to make a nuclear reactor, David Hahn, needed an adult to come alongside. His father tried, but didn't really know what to do with him. He apparently felt that David needed structure and discipline and thus got him involved with the Boy Scouts. That was fine as far as it went, but what was needed beyond that was for someone with a similar interest to be David's mentor and channel h
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Ken Silverstein is a great storyteller, but the quality of the book is hurt by the inconsistent (and sometimes downright sloppy) quality of the science writing. As the story of David Hahn revolves around his passion for chemistry, I wish that Silverstein had taken greater care in that realm. It's also clear that Silverstein is very anti-nuclear power, which is a legitimate position, but I think that his bias in that direction negatively affects the quality of the writing.

In hindsight, the somewh
Feb 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
There was something off-putting to me about the tone of this novel. A little too much disdain for the subjects of the story? Though that's not exactly it. I certainly wouldn't expect a biographer to always glamorize their subject, or hold people in high regard for things that really don't deserve respect. I picked this up because the story sounded interesting, but I just didn't end up loving it. Didn't hate it, either, though, so if it sounds good to you, go ahead and give it a read. Certainly a ...more
Dec 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Here's a postscript to this incredible story: The "Daily Mail" printed an interview by Laura Collins with the former Boy Scout on December 13, 2013. It includes a horrifying photo of David's face after a nuclear experiment gone bad. He's 38 years old now, is controlling diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia, and still works on a variety of experiments, including nuclear. The book, and this follow-up interview are fascinating. ...more
Jan 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love any book that can hold my attention for over 5 minutes
Gus Bennett
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed The Radioactive Boy Scout. Ken Silverstein does a good job telling an unbelievable true story in a compelling way. The book is incredibly entertaining, and left me turning pages endlessly constantly, needing to know what happens next. Although the book’s language can get fairly technical at times, it doesn’t detract in any way from enjoying what it puts forth.
Elizabeth Barstow
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
"The Radioactive Boy Scout" by Ken Silverstein was published in 2005. This book is a biography of David Hann, a boy who attempted to make a homemade neutron source in his mom's shed. The author portrayed Hann as a boy who did not fully understand the consequences that would come for his actions. This book is very uninteresting and misleading because it wrongfully represents Hann as a teen who could do no wrong. The text includes multiple chapters that leave the reader wondering how does this rel ...more
Dave Stansbury
Feb 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
The truth is stranger than fiction...a kid builds a nuclear bomb in his backyard for a scouts project. It is now buried in the desert somewhere....
Zach Feig
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was ok
The authors glorification of incredibly stupid behavior was quite frustrating. This pattern started with the title of the book. The kid did not make a nuclear reactor as the title implied. He just collected a lot of radioactive waste in really irresponsible manner and then stacked it up in a shape that replicated a picture of a reactor he saw in an old text book.

The author also insisted on calling the kids work "research" and on comparing him to famous scientists. He repeatedly implied that the
Richie Partington
Feb 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
22 April 2004 THE RADIOACTIVE BOY SCOUT: The True Story of a Boy and His Backyard Nuclear Reactor by Ken Silverstein, Random House, March 2004, ISBN: 0-375-50351-X

"Leave it better than the way you found it." That was what we were reminded each and every time we embarked on a hike or began a weekend campout.

Any mention of the Boy Scouts ignites within me a powerful assortment of emotions and vivid memories.

My grandfather Rex Partington was one of our country's first Eagle Scouts. It resulted i
Cooper Osgood
Jun 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Radioactive Boy Scout: The True Story of a Boy and his Backyard Nuclear Reactor
In Ken Silverstein’s The Radioactive Boy Scout, we are introduced to David Hahn who was socially awkward and often neglected since his father Ken being at work all day and his mother Patty had developed a drinking problem after David was born. The neglect from his parents played a very important role in him developing an interest in chemistry and eventually interest in building a nuclear breeder reactor. In the b
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
Eric Bingham
May 23, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Drake Tungsten
This book was quite scary. And it wasn't even fiction, which made it all the more frightening.

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
May 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, biography
I really liked the book, but I found some aspects of the book gave me pause to think. It shows how a person can be so single-minded and passionate about a subject that they are apathetic about all other subjects. It shows how a person rationalized bad behaviors like lying and stealing to achieve the success that they were so certain was possible. When I think how much freedom this young man took away from others in order to achieve his own ends, I wonder if his success was worth it. The fact tha ...more
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. ...more
Bea Elwood
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
You should find out what happens after the book ends too, because David Hahn died in 2016. This was a very interesting read but as an educator I found it really unnerving. This young man was clearly very intelligent but did poorly in school and was thus dismissed. Had there been a mentor or a single person to help give him direction he might have been able to do very amazing things in life instead of turning into this cautionary tale.
May 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
THIS STORY IS INSANE. The storytelling manages to be both meticulous and fast-paced, mainly because the story Silverstein is telling is so unbelievably weird. Pick up this book if you want to be impressed and terrified, and marvel at the total obliviousness of most of the people who played a role in this tale.
Picked this up in Los Alamos... where else!?
May 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
Scary! I kept wondering how close he was going to get to a melt-down before his "experiment" was discovered. Definitely a lesson in how NOT to conduct safe science/engineering projects. ...more
Eric  Norton
Review of the book The Radioactive Boy Scout By Ken Silverstein.

The Radioactive Boy Scout is a very delated adventurous biography story that is so crazy that it doesn't seem real. The book is about how a kid named David Hahn came to building a small Breeder reactor in his backyard and what lead to him as he was growing up to build it.
The story starts of with some background information about what he did as a child that started his interest in science. Next it goes into how his parents met and
Pritam Chattopadhyay
Dec 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
The prologue of this book quotes from ‘The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, 1960’ -- There is hardly a boy or a girl alive who is not keenly interested in finding out about things. And that’s exactly what chemistry is: Finding out about things—finding out what things are made of and what changes they undergo. What things? Any thing! Every thing!

If you think that boy scouts only lodge themselves by tying knots, carving wooden figurines and collecting various achievement patches to add on to
Noah Pelletier
Jun 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
In The Radioactive Boy Scout, by Ken Silverstein, readers are introduced to the crazy idea of a young teen creating and being in possession of highly radioactive substances. David Hahn, a teenage boy scout from Michigan is an entrepreneur scientist who after completing his nuclear energy patch for scouts takes an interest in nuclear energy. In his quest to learn more about nuclear energy he begins to write to various scientists and companies under the guise of a teacher. In these letters, he slo ...more
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Ken Silverstein is an American investigative journalist. He has worked for Racket, Racket Teen, Harper’s Magazine, The Intercept and the Los Angeles Times. He resides in Washington, D.C.

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