Blowing up "The Anarchist Cookbook"

The author of the famous do-it-yourself bomb book renounces his creation -- on Amazon.

Published September 18, 2000 7:24PM (EDT)

It's the adolescent anarchist's ultimate revenge -- pissing off and making uncomfortable his own grown-up self. William Powell, who wrote "The Anarchist Cookbook" when he was 19 in the late '60s, now wants to blow up his creation by having it taken out of print.

In a letter posted on the Web page that sells the classic '70s compendium of bomb and explosive recipes, Powell renounces the book that has been a staple of the secret stash under the bed of rebellious punk-rock pranksters with a yen for destruction since its original publication in 1970.

Thirty years later, the book is maintaining a remarkably high sales rate on Amazon, currently ranked at No. 1,572. Few people seem to care that some of the "recipes" were quickly discovered to be dangerously, even mortally inaccurate -- although several of the 148 Amazon customers offering reader reviews of the book did revile it as "The Disgruntled Idiot's Guide to Rebellion" or, worse, as a catalyst for school shootings.

But now Powell wants to see "The Anarchist Cookbook" go the way of most best-forgotten teenage musings. "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," Powell writes in the letter posted on the Amazon site, as well as on other sites devoted to the book. "The central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change. I no longer agree with this." He explains that the book was published under the publisher's copyright, not his, so he has no control over its continued dissemination.

Powell notes that he has since converted to Christianity and become "a father and teacher of adolescents." He doesn't appear to be relishing the prospect of finding a well-worn copy under his own kid's bed. It must be hard to spend your whole life trying to live down an unedited screed that you wrote at the surly age of 19, which just happens to contain some recipes that might accidentally kill, maim or otherwise discombobulate the budding anarchists trying to brew them.

But fans of "The Anarchist Cookbook" are not so sympathetic to the author's aged retraction. As a "reader from Woburn, MA" writes in one of the Amazon customer reviews: "It is unfortunate that we lose our sense of outrage and angst as we grow into adulthood. Such is the case of William Powell. The Anarchist's Cookbook is a masterpiece and a perfect example of what the freedoms of the Constitution gives us to speak what we wish."

And in a post titled "religion claims another victim," another reader rants: "Too bad the author of this book became a bible thumper, oh well ... the book should never be taken out of print, but rather updated to meet the needs of all people who today fight for self determination and freedom from opression [sic]."

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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