Monday, November 2, 2009

REVIEW: The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein

Below is my review of The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein.

If you've read it, I'd be curious about your take on the book. I myself (as you'll note in the review) was distracted, frustrated, and infuriated by the author's critical slant demonstrated in the book. I only hope that scouts, scouters, leaders, and adults everywhere can keep a better eye out for youth like David - and try to steer them to help and resources that can help to harness and channel some of that wealth of brilliance he posessed. Sometimes just listening to a youth can make all the difference.

The Review

This book really could have used a warning of a different nature that would have given potential readers a better idea of the axe-grinding, jaded, benighted, unbalanced editorializing perspective of the author. Not only does author Ken Silverstein little to mask his disdain for the Boy Scouts, and the nuclear power program; but he relentlessly mocks and belittles David, his parents, and other adults in his life which likely had little idea or ability how to harness the budding brilliance in David’s science obsessed mind.

To start with, this supposed “true story” of David’s scientific exploits is contained in approximately 1/5 of the books total pages. The remainder of the book contains regurgitated science book details gleaned from the authors half-hearted attempt at relaying background regarding the technology and “danger” of David’s exploits. I certainly won’t minimize the real potential for risk to life and limb that resulted from David’s experiments, but the author’s real premise cares much less about those details than his personal disdain for nuclear science.

Couple that jaded disdain with his unapologetic dislike for the Boy Scouts (as evidenced repeatedly in the author’s disparaging editorialized opinion including some of founder Baden Powell’s personal quotes - which in context are not only morally correct, but are also in-line with the time in which they were written – clearly the author isn’t concerned about context, or how facts relate to a good story), David’s scout leaders and the scouting organization.

The social & psychological implications of the book were not lost on me. In fact, if the author had stayed on topic and off the soap-box this could have been a much more powerful book. Clearly David’s family and community let him down, but how many people in suburbia are equipped to handle an obsessive genius mind like David’s? Ultimately David was aware that much of what he was doing was dangerous, and in the telling demonstrated this through his secrecy and embarrassment over some of the illegal and questionable methods he deployed to obtain materials for his projects.

In summary the author ruins a good story by repeatedly beating his drum of intolerance for the Boy Scouts, and disdain for the nuclear power program, sciences, suburbia, urban sprawl and other liberal pet topics. Rather than cobble together this book, the author would have been better served to contribute additional articles to his newspaper editors.