Mental Floss

Anarchist Cookbook Author: “I’m sorry that it has been used by people for violent purposes.”

Chris Higgins

In 1971, William Powell’s book The Anarchist Cookbook was first published. Powell wrote it as a teenager, and included “recipes” on things like bomb-making and hand-to-hand combat — exactly the sort of things teenaged boys have found fascinating ever since. But in the years after its publication, Powell renounced his work, and has called for it to be removed from publication — however, he doesn’t own the copyright, and the publisher continues to sell it. Indeed, in the “From the Author” section of the book’s Amazon page, Powell says (emphasis added):

The Anarchist Cookbook was written during 1968 and part of 1969 soon after I graduated from high school. At the time, I was 19 years old and the Vietnam War and the so-called “counter culture movement” were at their height. I was involved in the anti-war movement and attended numerous peace rallies and demonstrations. The book, in many respects, was a misguided product of my adolescent anger at the prospect of being drafted and sent to Vietnam to fight in a war that I did not believe in.

In a recent Newsweek article, Powell’s story is told in more depth. I’m aware of the book, although I’ve never read it; a high school acquaintance had a copy and managed to use recipes included in the book to create pipe bombs, blow up mailboxes, and get expelled. That was a real Teachable Moment for me, and the lesson was to stay away from this book! (There were also rumors that some of the recipes were incorrect and/or had been modified in digital versions to make them dangerous — such that would-be bomb-makers would be even more likely to blow themselves up in the process. The book also contains some incorrect information about banana peels, and my actual anarchist friends used to bristle at the misuse of the term “anarchist” in the book’s title.)

Here’s a snippet from the Newsweek profile of Powell:

Powell, now 61 years old, long ago renounced the best-selling terrorist bible he penned. He left the country in 1979, bouncing around the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, working as a teacher and administrator in a series of State Department–backed private schools. He wrote more books, about pedagogy and professional development. And he gained a reputation for&emdash;wait for it&emdash;conflict resolution.

Read the rest for an intriguing account of how one man’s act of teen rebellion has led to decades of struggle, explosions, and regret. It’s also very interesting to see the good work Powell has done — not at all what you might expect from the author of The Anarchist Cookbook. But we all make mistakes as teenagers, right?