Geekly Reader – “The Radioactive Boy Scout” by Ken Silverstein

Geek Culture


David Hahn was a geeky kid growing up in the suburbs of Detroit during the early 1990′s. Like most geeky kids, he was socially awkward and had an intense fascination with very narrow subject matter; in his case, science. But when David began working on his Atomic Energy Merit Badge, his rather obsessive pursuits nearly lead to an environmental disaster.

This installment of the Geekly Reader is a slight departure from our normal fare. Instead of a fictional book to share with children, this true story is a cautionary tale for geek parents everywhere. If your Geeklets love to experiment, make sure you read this book before letting them create their own makeshift laboratory!

Young Mr. Hahn was a born experimenter who made his own fireworks and created formulas to change the color of his hair and skin. Like most young inventors, his endeavors had varying degrees of success. Most of his results ended up causing skin burns, noxious fumes, or in some cases, minor explosions. However, David’s attempt to create a working breeder reactor in the potting shed took his experiments to a whole new level, and ended with the EPA treating his mother’s backyard like a Superfund clean-up site.

"The Radioactive Boyscout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and his Homemade Nuclear Reactor" was published by Villard Books in 2004. Author and investigative reporter Ken Silverstein has packed this relatively quick read with much detail, including stories of Madam Curie‘s experiments with radioactivity, and a concise history of the Boy Scouts. I would recommend this book to GeekDads and Moms everywhere (especially those who are parents of budding tinkerers.) The paperback edition was released in 2005 and is available at

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