A repentant anarchist?

William Powell, author of the 1969 quasi-classic work ‘The Anarchist Cookbook‘, has repented of writing it.  In an op-ed in the Guardian, he wrote:

Forty-four years ago this month, in December 1969, I quit my job as a manager of a bookstore in New York City’s Greenwich Village and began to write the Anarchist Cookbook. My motivation at the time was simple; I was being actively pursued by the US military, who seemed single-mindedly determined to send me to fight, and possibly die, in Vietnam.

I wanted to publish something that would express my anger. It seems that I succeeded in ways that far exceeded what I imagined possible at the time. The Cookbook is still in print 40 years after publication, and I am told it has sold in excess of 2m copies.

I have never held the copyright, and so the decision to continue publishing it has been in the hands of the publisher.

I now find myself arguing for it to be quickly and quietly taken out of print. What has changed?

. . .

Over the years, I have come to understand that the basic premise behind the Cookbook is profoundly flawed. The anger that motivated the writing of the Cookbook blinded me to the illogical notion that violence can be used to prevent violence. I had fallen for the same irrational pattern of thought that led to US military involvement in both Vietnam and Iraq. The irony is not lost on me.

To paraphrase Aristotle: it is easy to be angry. But to be angry with the right person, at the right time and to the right degree that is hard – that is the hallmark of a civilized person.

There’s more at the link.

I can understand the anger.  I felt it for many years in South Africa, and it led me to make mistakes of which I remain ashamed to this day.  (It also led me to do some things of which I remain proud . . . I suppose there are pluses and minuses to almost everything.)  I can understand Mr. Powell wanting to remove the fruits of his anger from the marketplace today.

Unfortunately, once one has cast one’s bread upon the waters (figuratively speaking), it goes where time and tide take it.  One has lost control of its destination.  The Anarchist Cookbook has allegedly inspired more than a few terrorists and criminals around the world.  Once that sort of thing is out there, the genie can’t be put back into the bottle.  That’s why I most profoundly and devoutly hope that the Anarchist Cookbook will never be put into widespread use in this country by those who are fed up with the way things are going.  Sometimes the cure really is worse than the disease.  I’ve seen that at first hand, over far too long a period in far too many countries.  I know.



  1. Yet there are times when such action is necessary.
    The Killing Fields
    The Warsaw Ghetto
    The American Revolution
    The Scottish Revolution

    Don't get me wrong, violence should never be considered an easy solution, but when faced with an evil that has no problem using violence to achieve its ends, there is no more effective answer than countering that violence with equal force.

  2. I own a copy of the AC and some of its chapters were used in a foreign country (which would have sent me to a lengthy prison term for just having the book) as means to survive from the criminal element.
    The copy now rests somewhere in one of many bookcases here in the US, probably full of dust and cat hair. A well deserved retirement and hoping I never need it again.

  3. If you know enough chemistry to safely make some of the recipes in the book, you don't need the book. If you need the book to make the recipes, you don't know enough to make them safely.

  4. I read, but did not own, a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook in 1971 at a Baptist university in the American South. I mostly flipped through it looking for different ways of getting high; I don't recall any of them working. A few years ago, for no particular reason I ordered a copy, just to see what I'd missed on my first go-through. I found it to be a handy resource for making explosives, in the same sense that a cat is a major league baseball team.

  5. Anyone trying to put the AC into widespread use will end up causing widespread death among those that try to sue it. I bough a copy back in the late 70s out of curiosity. I had learned enough in during military service and Engineering school to know that the book was dangerous.

    I recall that somethings might be handy, but, on the whole, the book is not useful. Unless you want to give it to an enemy.

  6. I cuncur with the other commenters, the Cookbook was a farce, technically. Better information can be had from military TMs and FMs. I believe there are times when your choice may be limited to submitting to tyranny or …..not. This knowledge has a place in the bookcases of Free men everywhere. It it the equivalent of Orwell's rifle hanging on the wall of the working man's cottage.
    Besides, there's stumps in the back 40 that need to be blown . . . . .

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