20 Books of Summer: The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein

Late last year when I reviewed Ken Silverstein’s 2008 book Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship I mentioned in passing his 2008 book The Radioactive Boy Scout: The True Story of a Boy and His Backyard Nuclear Reactor.  Over the years I’d heard rumors a Boy Scout managed to build a nuclear reactor in his backyard and someone had written a book about it. Reading Turkmeniscam put me in the mood to read The Radioactive Boy Scout and luckily for me, I was able to borrow a Kindle edition through Overdrive. Like Turkmeniscam, it’s a short book around 240 pages. But unlike Turkmeniscam, which isn’t bad, The Radioactive Boy Scout doesn’t feel like a magazine article that’s been padded into a book. I found it succinctly well-written and difficult to put down.

One of the major reasons I enjoyed The Radioactive Boy Scout is it’s hard not to root for David Hawn, the young man whose adventures Silverstein chronicles in the book. Here’s a guy with a crappy home life, complete with a mother battling mental illness and alcoholism. He’s socially awkward, but in spite of himself still manages to have a steady girlfriend. Academically, his grades are terrible. Outside of school however he’s a scientific prodigy. Hunkered down in his series of makeshift laboratories he spends his waking hours concocting his own energy drinks, self-tanning lotions and homemade fireworks. Using a 1950s era intro to chemistry book as his guide he created his own ether and conducted a number of experiments, many of them totally unsafe for an unsupervised teen working in an impromptu home lab.

Eventually, David’s obsession turned to nuclear energy. His dream was to create his own breeder reactor, that is a reactor that creates more fuel than it consumes. In the pre-Internet age of the 1990s he scoured libraries, hospitals, colleges and government agencies for helpful open source material, sometimes posing as a college professor. In his quest to obtain fissionable material he bought stuff through the mail, did his own prospecting and even told a hospital he needed a sample of a medical grade isotope to earn a Boy Scout merit badge. Without revealing too much let’s just say in the end his ambitious project would attract the attention of not just local law enforcement but also several government agencies.

The Radioactive Boy Scout is must reading for all you geeks and techies.

9 thoughts on “20 Books of Summer: The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein

  1. I have been bragging about you and your blog for years…and…it’s STILL very much deserved!

    The NUtty ProfessOr says, Hey!

    Next trip to PDX, lets re-group…!

    On Sun, Aug 25, 2019 at 3:53 PM Maphead’s Book Blog wrote:

    > maphead posted: “Late last year when I reviewed Ken Silverstein’s 2008 > book Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist > Dictatorship I mentioned in passing his 2008 book The Radioactive Boy > Scout: The True Story of a Boy and His Backyard Nuclear” >

    Like

  2. I got that book from our public library several years ago after hearing the author interviewed on NPR. I found myself rooting for the kid especially when he called Los Alamos with questions about the plutonium trigger.

    Like

  3. I heard about this book a few years ago and thought it sounded, but never got around to reading it. I wonder what the boy is up to now; I like to think he used his intelligence and “powers” for good!

    Like

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