The thing that bothers me about it is I'd really like to be able to make some of the stuff to play with out in the desert or some other safe place, but it's illegal to do that kind of thing. So, even if you could read the books, you couldn't legally have any fun with the knowledge. :(
I did play with that stuff when I was in high school.
In 1957, when the free world was locked in a death struggle with international Communism, the Soviet Union humiliated the United States by sending up Sputnick, the first artificial satellite in outer space, orbiting the world and beeping its presence on radio frequencies that any Ham operator in the world could tune in to. That was soon followed by the first dog in space, the first man in space, and the first woman in space.
America had to do something. They responded the way they always do -- promoting science, technology, engineering and math. (No coding; we still used T-squares and slide rules.) If you were a science teacher willing to make a Faustian bargain to get endless resources, laboratories, and cool toys in exchange for teaching kids how to become engineers and scientists and find better, more reliable, accurate ways to deliver hydrogen bombs to the Kremlin. We were in a space race with the Russians. Crisis in Education: exclusive pictures of a Russian schoolboy vs. his U.S. counterpart, Life, 24 March 1958, https://books.google.com/books...
You know the line, "If you don't give me a billion dollars and let me do anything I want, the terrorists will win"? Well, that started off in 1957 as, "If you don't give me a billion dollars and let me do anything I want, the Communists will win."
This was not long after the Manhattan Project dramatically ended the world's greatest struggle with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Scientists were war heroes. Scientists could get away with anything.
Science teachers tolerated (and sometimes tacitly encouraged) adolescent boys playing with explosives. You never can tell when your country may be invaded and you'll have to join the guerillas to fight back with improvised explosive devices.
As every chemistry teacher knows, nothing attracts the attention of a class as well as an explosion. The smarter chemistry students were the ones who were most attracted to making their own explosives.
Some of you may recall a column in Scientific American called "The Amateur Scientist," and some of you may further recall their article on model rockets, which set off a craze for building rockets around the country, which I joined. The propellant they recommended was zinc dust and sulfur, which was safer because it was a self-limiting explosion which would slow down as the pressure increased. My high school friends in the Science Club experimented with other propellants. "Experiment" in this context means seeing if it shoots your rocket higher or just blows up. Blowing up was not a total loss. In reference to the other message, everyone who mixed potassium chlorate with red phosphorous, including me, eventually met disaster. Without going into detail, I strongly recommend face shields and tongs. I also recommend that you keep it wet and don't let it dry out as you're working on it. There are a lot of 6-fingered chemists around.
We actually learned a lot of chemistry and physics. The chemistry of rocket fuels is a good lesson in oxydation and in applying theory to practice. We ran into a PR guy at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Aerospace who probably did the same thing at our age and directed us to some basic textbooks on rocketry, which we then looked up across the street in the Science and Technology division of the New York Public Library. The books were full of calculus, so I said to myself, "I have to learn calculus." So I did. I remember how, in a well-designed rocket, the fuel would burn at a certain rate (not blow up all at once like ours). The hot exhaust would go down the inside of the tube, and then through a nozzle, which would increase the velocity of the exhaust. The higher the velocity, the more efficency. So a powder that ignited all at once wasn't a good propellant. But we were never able to make good nozzles. The kids who won the science fairs had fathers with access to machine shops.
We bought the chemicals at Lewis Chemical Supply on Canal Street, whose main business was selling exterminating supplies, but he had a good collection of the kind of stuff you'd find in a high school chemistry stockroom before OSHA. The owner, who was always friendly and possibly drunk, knew what we were doing and would sell us anything. I'd come in and check off my shopping list: a pound of sulfur, a pound of zinc dust, a pound of potassium cholorate, a 1-pound bottle of sufuric acid, four ounces of red phosphorus, magnesium filings (which also came in handy in the Grignard reaction), and anything new we wanted to try out, like cupric oxide and aluminum dust. They were actually cheap, because he was selling stuff out of 50-pound drums at wholesale prices.
You know why the Manhattan Project was called that? Because the Quartermasters Corps started building it in Manhattan, and during the preliminary work they bought a lot of stuff on Canal Street. Canal Street was a center for industrial equipment and supplies, and a science teacher's dream, where you could buy not only chemicals (uranium oxide, anyone?) but metal stock, plastics, rubber, optics, lathes and milling machines, laboratory equipment, and especially electronics and computer parts. There are neighborhoods like that in India and China today. No waiting for Federal Express. You have an idea, you go down to Canal Street, buy the parts, and try it out.
(Trigger warning -- Chinese model minority stereotype coming)
By now, most of the actors in this story are dead, the evidence of any illegality is long gone, the statutes of limitations have long passed, and only I am left to tell the tale. The Lewis Chemical Supply House was replaced by a Chinese fresh fish store and a Chinese housewares and clothing shop (which BTW has good prices). It's on a little triangle block, opposite Starbucks. That's one of my favorite coffee shops. When I'm reading Science magazine, it's a good feeling to be surrounded by Chinese students studying math and chemistry, and to look out the window at the site of Lewis Chemical Supply, and remember the old days.
So we lost all that. In compensation, we got the computers we always dreamed of. It's part of the progress and change I have to accept. But there's a romance to a blast going off that you can never get on a monitor.