The Boy Who Played with Fusion by Tom Clynes

The Boy Who Played with Fusion by Tom ClynesThe Boy Who Played with Fusion by Tom Clynes
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on June 9, 2015
Genres: Education, Family & Relationships, General, Gifted, Nuclear, Parenting, Physics, Science, Special Education
Pages: 272
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
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How an American teenager became the youngest person ever to build a working nuclear fusion reactor. By the age of nine, Taylor Wilson had mastered the science of rocket propulsion. At eleven, his grandmother’s cancer diagnosis drove him to investigate new ways to produce medical isotopes. And by fourteen, Wilson had built a 500-million-degree reactor and become the youngest person in history to achieve nuclear fusion. How could someone so young achieve so much, and what can Wilson’s story teach parents and teachers about how to support high-achieving kids? In The Boy Who Played with Fusion, science journalist Tom Clynes narrates Taylor Wilson’s extraordinary journey—from his Arkansas home where his parents fully supported his intellectual passions, to a unique Reno, Nevada, public high school just for academic superstars, to the present, when now nineteen-year-old Wilson is winning international science competitions with devices designed to prevent terrorists from shipping radioactive material into the country. Along the way, Clynes reveals how our education system shortchanges gifted students, and what we can do to fix it.

You guys. There are self-taught amateur scientists out there playing with nuclear fusion. In their home labs. That is altogether badass and…terrifying. Mostly badass! The Boy Who Played with Fusion tells the story of one of these nuclear enthusiasts, a 14-year-old kid from Arkansas named Taylor Wilson, who in 2008 became the youngest person to fuse the atom (until 13-year-old Jamie Edwards did so last year).

This book is an incredible page-turner—narrative non-fiction at its best, the perfect balance of interesting facts and a personal story. It’s completely engaging, one of those books that takes you down endless (but related) rabbit trails. I was forever pausing to Google for more information on all sorts of things (especially the radium craze of the early 1900s) and to add more books to my TBR list. And I was touched by how the death of his grandmother inspired Taylor to dream up ways his research can help others.

As far as insights into the ways “our education system shortchanges gifted children,” I was left wanting a little more. Commentary was scattered throughout, but it didn’t come together—and even then, somewhat loosely—until the very end of the book. “What we can do to fix it” ultimately felt like another utopian ideal, one that would still require a certain level of privilege in order to attain it. I actually don’t feel like this was the author’s fault, for a number of reasons. Mostly, I don’t think there was the necessary space to include much more about such a complex topic, but what was there was important to telling Taylor’s story.

So, I wasn’t left with a hopeful feeling about the state of education in our country, but I did feel inspired. Pick up The Boy Who Played with Fusion for its fascinating science and its human interest story appeal, and you won’t be disappointed!

  • Totally agree that this is a little terrifying, but I think I’d be with you in doing all the Googling! And I’d totally read the book that really gets at how gifted kids are shortchanged and comes up with some good solutions to address the privilege question…where is that book??

  • I need to read this one; I remember hearing about him on the news, since I live in Arkansas. What an amazing story! I’m so glad you enjoyed this and thanks for the recommendation!

  • Wow – this sounds totally interesting! And – can you even imagine a child who spilt the atom at 13 sitting in some Biology class learning about photosynthesis?! I don’t think so…that education part would be really interesting…

  • Jennine G.

    All kids are getting short changed with the way our education system is going. I don’t particularly feel bad for the gifted kids though cause they will pull through more than okay in the end…they’ve got more going for them than any other students in the system.