William Powell Author Biography Essay

For the film, see The Anarchist Cookbook (film).

The Anarchist Cookbook, first published in 1971,[1] is a book that contains instructions for the manufacture of explosives, rudimentary telecommunications phreaking devices, and related weapons, as well as instructions for home manufacturing of illicit drugs, including LSD. It was written by William Powell at the apex of the counterculture era in order to protest against United States involvement in the Vietnam War.[2] Powell converted to Anglicanism in 1976, and later attempted to have the book removed from circulation, but the copyright belonged to the publisher who continued circulation until the company was acquired in 1991. Its legality has been questioned in jurisdictions.



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The Anarchist Cookbook was written by William Powell as a teenager and first published in 1971 at the apex of the counterculture era in order to protest against United States involvement in the Vietnam War.[2][1] The book contains instructions for the manufacture of explosives, rudimentary telecommunications phreaking devices, and related weapons, as well as instructions for home manufacturing of illicit drugs, including LSD.

Author regret[edit]

After writing the book as a teenager, Powell converted to Anglicanism in 1976, and later attempted to have the book removed from circulation.[3][2] He was powerless to stop publication because the copyright had been issued to the original publisher (Lyle Stuart), and subsequent publishers that purchased the rights have kept the title in print. Powell publicly renounced his book in both a 2000 statement for the Amazon bookstore[4] and a 2013 piece calling for the book to "quickly and quietly go out of print".[5] William Powell died of cardiac arrest on 11 July 2016.[6]

Publication status[edit]

The copyright of the book never belonged to its author, but to its publisher Lyle Stuart.[2] Stuart kept publishing the book until the company was bought in 1991 by Steven Schragis, who decided to drop it. Out of the 2,000 books published by the company, it was the only one that Schragis decided to stop publishing. Schragis said publishers have a responsibility to the public, and the book had no positive social purpose that could justify keeping it in print.[7] The copyright was bought in 2002 by Delta Press (aka Ozark Press[8][9]) an Arkansas-based publisher that specializes in controversial books, where the title is their "most-asked-for volume".[10]


At the time of its publication, one Federal Bureau of Investigation memo described The Anarchist Cookbook as "one of the crudest, low-brow, paranoiac writing efforts ever attempted".[11]

In 2010, the FBI released the bulk of its investigative file on The Anarchist Cookbook.[12][13]


Advocates of anarchism dispute the association of the book with anarchist political philosophy. The anarchist collective CrimethInc., which published the book Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook in response, denounces the earlier book, saying it was "not composed or released by anarchists, not derived from anarchist practice, not intended to promote freedom and autonomy or challenge repressive power – and was barely a cookbook, as most of the recipes in it are notoriously unreliable".[14]

Online presence[edit]

Much of the publication was copied and made available as text documents online[15] through Usenet and FTP sites hosted in academic institutions in the early 1990s, and has been made available via web browsers from their inception in the mid-1990s to the present day. The name varies slightly from Anarchist Cookbook to Anarchy Cookbook and the topics have expanded vastly in the intervening decades. Many of the articles were attributed to an anonymous author called The Jolly Roger.

In 2001, British businessman Terrance Brown created the now defunct website anarchist-cookbook.com and sold copies of his derivative work, entitled Anarchist Cookbook 2000.

Knowledge of the book, or copied online publications of it, increased along with the increase in public access to the Internet throughout the mid-1990s. Newspapers ran stories about how easy the text was to get hold of, and the influence it may have had with terrorists, criminals and experimental teenagers.[15]


The book was refused classification by the Office of Film and Literature Classification upon release, thus making the book banned in Australia. It was classified RC again on 31 October 2016.[16][17]

In 2007, a 17-year-old was arrested in the United Kingdom and faced charges under anti-terrorism law in the UK for possession of this book, among other things.[18] He was cleared of all charges in October 2008, after arguing that he was a prankster who just wanted to research fireworks and smoke bombs.[19]

In County Durham, UK in 2010, Ian Davison and his son were imprisoned under anti-terrorism laws for the manufacturing of ricin, and their possession of The Anarchist Cookbook, along with its availability, was noted by the authorities.[20]

In 2013, renewed calls were made in the United States to ban this book, citing links to a school shooting in Colorado, USA by Karl Pierson.[10]

In 2017, a 27-year-old was prosecuted in UK solely for the possession of the book. He was found not guilty.[21]

Despite this the book is readily available from major online retailers e.g. Amazon[22] and Barnes & Noble[23]


See also: American Anarchist

The book was a frequent target for challenges to its content throughout the 1990s.[24] It served as a central element of the 2002 romantic comedyThe Anarchist Cookbook.[25] Repercussions from the book's publication, and the author's subsequent disavowal of its content, were the subject of the 2016 documentary filmAmerican Anarchist by Charlie Siskel. In the film, William Powell explains in depth his thoughts on the book, and the consequences it had in his life.[26]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  1. ^ ab"The Anarchist Cookbook LoC entry". Retrieved May 15, 2010. 
  2. ^ abcdMieszkowski, Katharine (September 18, 2000). "Blowing up The Anarchist Cookbook". Salon.com. Retrieved 2 July 2016. 
  3. ^Saner, Emine. "Why the author of The Anarchist Cookbook wants it taken off the shelves". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  4. ^William, Powell. ""From the Author" statement". Retrieved 30 July 2017. 
  5. ^"I wrote the Anarchist Cookbook in 1969. Now I see its premise as flawed". The Guardian. 19 December 2013. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  6. ^Richard Sandomir (29 March 2017). "'William Powell, Anarchist Cookbook writer, Dies at 66'". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2017. 
  7. ^Smith, Dinitia (January 6, 1992). "The Happy Hawker: Tyro Publisher Steven Schragis's Genius for Promoting Schlock". New York Magazine. 25 (1). p. 46. ISSN 0028-7369. 
  8. ^Arkansas publisher keeping controversial book on the shelves (2015 April 21)
  9. ^The Anarchist Cookbook Turns 40 (2011 January 31)
  10. ^ abDokoupil, Tony (17 December 2013). "After latest shooting, murder manual author calls for book to be taken 'immediately' out of print". NBC News. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  11. ^Walker, Jesse (2011-02-16) The FBI on The Anarchist Cookbook, Reason
  12. ^FBI Files on the Anarchist Cookbook Retrieved on February 14, 2011
  13. ^Mirror of "FBI Files on the Anarchist Cookbook" Retrieved on July 24, 2013
  14. ^The Guardian, September 2004, as quoted at CWC Books : Recipes For Disaster Retrieved on November 22, 2007
  15. ^ abSankin, Aaron (2015-03-22). "The Kernel". Kernelmag.dailydot.com. Retrieved 2018-02-06. 
  16. ^"Banned Books in Australia: A Selection". University of Melbourne. 
  17. ^"THE ANARCHIST COOKBOOK". Classification Board. Australian Government. October 31, 2016. Retrieved November 5, 2016. 
  18. ^"Boy in court on terror charges. A British teenager who is accused of possessing material for terrorist purposes has appeared in court". BBC News. 2007-10-05. 
  19. ^"Teenage bomb plot accused cleared. Two teenagers who were accused of discussing a plot to blow up British National Party (BNP) members have been cleared of terror charges". BBC News. 2008-10-23. 
  20. ^"County Durham terror plot father and son are jailed". BBC News. 2010-05-14. 
  21. ^url=https://theintercept.com/2017/10/28/josh-walker-anarchist-cookbook-terrorism-act-uk/
  22. ^"The Anarchist Cookbook: William Powell: 9781684111374: Amazon.com: Books". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2018-02-06. 
  23. ^url=https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/anarchist-cookbook-william-f-powell/1002521149
  24. ^American Library Association: 100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999
  25. ^"The Anarchist Cookbook Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2018-02-06. 
  26. ^"American Anarchist Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2018-02-06. 

He declared that his book was an educational service for the silent majority — not the one identified by President Richard M. Nixon as his middle-American constituency, but the disciplined anarchists who were seeking dignity in a world gone wrong. To them, he offered how-to plans for weaponry and explosives as well as drugs, electronic surveillance, guerrilla training and hand-to-hand combat — a potent mix that attracted the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The book found a big audience. More than two million copies have reportedly been sold, and still more have been downloaded on the internet.

“It was inevitable that he did it,” James J. F. Forest, a professor of security studies at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, said in a phone interview. “If he hadn’t done it, somebody else would have. It’s human behavior to tap into a dangerous stream of knowledge, and in his case he was inspired to make that dangerous information available to anyone else who was interested.”

Mr. Powell never revised the book or wrote a sequel, but his original stayed in print, through Lyle Stuart and its successor company, Barricade Books, and most recently by Delta Press. Eventually, he renounced the book. In 2000, he posted a statement to that effect on Amazon.com. And later, in 2013, he expressed his regret in an article he wrote for The Guardian.

He chose a career as a teacher, not a revolutionary, specializing in working on behalf of children with special needs.

And then, on July 11 of last year, he died of a heart attack while vacationing with his family near Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was 66 and had lived part-time in Massat, France, when he was not working with his wife, Ochan Powell, on educational projects in other countries.

His family reported the death on Facebook, but few if any obituaries followed. His son Sean said that the people who needed to know had been told, and that the family had not thought of reaching out to newspapers.

It was not until last week that his death became more widely known, with the theatrical release of “American Anarchist,” a documentary about Mr. Powell. His death was noted in the closing credits.

The director, Charlie Siskel, said he had interviewed Mr. Powell over a week in 2015.

“What interested me was: How do you go through 40 years of your life with his dark chapter in the background?” Mr. Siskel said on Monday. “How does one sleep at night or get through the day?”

On camera, Mr. Powell seemed to struggle to absorb the idea that his book had apparently had an influence on a number of notorious criminals. One was Zvonko Busic, a Croatian nationalist who hijacked a TWA flight in 1976 while carrying phony bombs after leaving a real one at Grand Central Terminal that killed a police officer who tried to deactivate it.

Others included Thomas Spinks, who was part of a group that bombed abortion clinics in the 1980s; Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995; Eric Harris, one of the Columbine attackers; and Jared Loughner, who killed six people during his attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona in 2011.

“When ‘The Cookbook’ has been associated with Columbine and the later characters and killing, I did feel responsible, but I didn’t do it,” Mr. Powell told Mr. Siskel, adding: “Somebody else with a perverted, distorted sense of reality did something awful. I didn’t.”

William Ralph Powell was born on Long Island, in Roslyn, on Dec. 6, 1949. His father, William Charles Powell, was a press officer at the United Nations; his mother, the former Doreen Newman, ran a phobia clinic at a hospital in White Plains.

Mr. Powell told Mr. Siskel that after his father was transferred to Britain, he attended a school where bullying was commonplace and where the headmaster had caned him. When the family returned to the United States, he said, he felt alienated as an outsider. His fifth-grade teacher mocked his British accent. At a prep school in Westchester County, N.Y., he said, he was molested by the dorm master.

He was working at a bookstore in Greenwich Village in late 1969 when he decided to quit his job to research and write “The Anarchist Cookbook.”

“My motivation at the time was simple,” he wrote in The Guardian. “I was being actively pursued by the 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.”

The book, a precursor to more recent publications like “The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook” and “Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla,” was at times angry, but it also came with cautionary notes (“This book is not for children or morons”) and common-sense tips, like one he appended to the 14 steps for manufacturing TNT.

“The temperatures used in the preparation of TNT are exact,” he wrote, “and must be used as such. Do not estimate or use approximations. Buy a good centigrade thermometer.”

In an interview at the time of the book’s publication, Mr. Powell told The Bennington Banner in Vermont, “I don’t see myself as crazed or bomb-throwing, though I could be if driven into a corner.”

By 1971, when Lyle Stuart — considered a renegade for his belief that the American people had a right to read anything — published “The Anarchist Cookbook,” Mr. Powell was attending Windham College in Putney, Vt. After graduation, he received a master’s degree in English from Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y.

His early teaching focused on children with emotional and learning needs. He moved overseas in 1979 and worked in Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Indonesia and Malaysia, teaching marginalized children and training teachers in how to better include them in the classroom.

Sean Powell said in an interview that his father did not exile himself from the United States because of “The Anarchist Cookbook.”

“The book came out in 1971,” he said, “and he went to Saudi Arabia in 1979. Why would he take eight years to go into exile?”

In addition to his wife, the former Ochan Kusuma, and his son Sean, Mr. Powell is survived by another son, Colin; four grandchildren; a brother, Christopher; and his mother. His first marriage ended in divorce.

When “The Anarchist Cookbook” drew the attention of the F.B.I., agents were assigned to track which stores sold the book and to find out if William Powell was a pseudonym, according to the bureau’s file on Mr. Powell. It noted a request by John W. Dean III, counsel to President Nixon, for a copy of the book.

But agents could find no reason to take action against Mr. Powell. Though he did, as the F.B.I. wrote, “submit for consideration recipes for nearly every type of explosive” whose manufacture and distribution violated federal law, there was no evidence that he had been guilty of either.

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Correction: March 31, 2017

An obituary on Thursday about William Powell, the author of “The Anarchist Cookbook,” misstated his age in some copies. He was 66, not 67. (As the obituary correctly noted, he was born in December 1949 and died in July 2016.) The error was repeated in the headline.

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