|Ken Shirriff -> Anarchist Cookbook FAQ|
NEW! Comments on the Anarchist Cookbook from the original author
Dear Mr. Shirriff,
Mr. Powell's comments have been discussed in Salon.
Note to reporters: I am no longer in contact with Mr. Powell; his email address no longer works.
The Anarchist Cookbook, by William Powell, is a 160 page book, originally published in 1971 by Lyle Stuart. It is currently published by Barricade Books under ISBN 0-9623032-0-8. (Note that the name is not the "Anarchist's Cookbook"; there is no possessive in the name.)
Some people consider the Anarchist Cookbook to be a classic while many people consider it total junk. Many anarchists say that the Anarchist Cookbook has nothing to do with "real anarchy." The Anarchist Cookbook generally has a bad reputation.
You can buy it from the online bookstore amazon.com. You can also easily order it (or any other book in print) from your local bookstore. Give them the ISBN above and you should get it in a few weeks. Alternatively, you can send $22 (includes postage) to Barricade Books, PO Box 1401, Secaucus NJ 07096. Other mail order places also sell it, such as Paladin Press.
It's easy to find files called the "Anarchist Cookbook" online, but I have never found the original despite extensive searching. If you find the real thing, feel free to send me a working path. Note that the original tells you how to make bail in New York City, provides a recipe for cacodyal, and explains how to demolish suspension bridges. If your file doesn't have this, sorry, you haven't found the real thing.
You can use AltaVista or your favorite search engine to find these and other related files.
No. According to people who know explosives, it contains many dangerous errors and formulas that are likely to hurt you. People strongly advise to stay away from it if you enjoy having your limbs.
If you want to read it just for entertainment or to impress friends with it, however, go ahead. I thought it was rather silly and contained a lot of tedious 60's political rhetoric. I'd suggest saving your money, but buy it if you want.
Also note that kids regularly blind, maim, deafen, or kill themselves or their friends by playing around with pipe bombs and other explosives. Please avoid this, as it will not only mess up your life and upset your parents, but also motivates laws against the Internet and professional pyrotechnicians.
A few safety tips to think about: a) Constantly ask yourself: what would happen to me if this mixture blew up _right_now_, say from static electricity? b) Look at a .22 and consider that the fraction of a gram of gunpowder in this could kill you thousands of feet away. Admittedly a gun is a special case, but the point is that a little bit of explosive can fling deadly bits of metal long distances at you. c) You don't need high explosives to hurt yourself; people get themselves killed with match heads, gasoline, or gunpowder.
Check out the Pyrotechnics Guild International or look at the rec.pyrotechnics FAQ file, which, like most FAQ files, can be ftp'd from rtfm.mit.edu: ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet/rec.pyrotechnics. Some of the books that FAQ recommends are Chemistry of Pyrotechnics and Explosives by John A. Conkling, Fireworks : The Art, Science, and Technique by Takeo Shimizu, Fireworks Principles and Practice by Ronald Lancaster, Pyrotechnics by George W. Weingart, and Chemistry of Powder and Explosives by Tenny Davis. Only the last two are books that you could actually afford.
Note that the Anarchist Cookbook is available from nearly any bookstore in the U.S. These dangerous institutions will also sell you Nazi and hate literature, pornography, instructions on growing drugs, and so forth. For some reason, getting this stuff from a bookstore is not news, but getting it over the Internet is. Before calling for restrictions on the Internet, think of how you would like these restrictions to be applied to books, which really provide much more dangerous information than the Internet does. Some examples of easily-available books are Poor Man's James Bond, Anarchist Handbook, A Do-it-yourself Submachine Gun, Home Workshop Explosives, Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture.
As an interesting Department of Justice report points out, over 50 publications describing the fabrication of explosives and destructive devices are listed in the Library of Congress and are available to any member of the public, as well as being easily available commercially. (Although all of the listed books have (coincidentally?) gone out of print recently.) The report points out that one Kansas bomber got his bomb plans from the August 1993 Reader's Digest, of all places.
Yes. Lots of them. A classic error is the recipe for extracting the drug bananadine from banana peels. The flaw is that bananadine does not exist; it was mentioned in the March 1967 Berkeley Barb as a joke but the Anarchist Cookbook took it seriously. [Reference: "Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream, p. 336, thanks to Lamont Granquist.]
There are more inaccuracies in the demolition section. Most of this section was cribbed from the U.S. Army Field Manual 5-25 "Explosives and Demolitions". However, the Cookbook discussion is simplified or even made up in several cases. For instance, while the Field Manual has a long discussion of the difficulty of demolishing suspension bridges, the Cookbook simply gives six places to put charges.
On the other hand, despite the errors the author of the original Anarchist Cookbook did use actual reference materials. This is in contrast to many of the online files, which get much of their content from pure imagination.
For a review with several specific errors, see the anarchistic publisher Spunk Press's rather negative page on the Anarchist Cookbook: http://www.cwi.nl/~jack/spunk/cookbook.html .
Also see a review at http://hyperreal.com/drugs/faqs/FAQ-Clandestine-Chemistry that describes the Anarchist Cookbook as a flawed classic, full of all sorts of mistakes.
There's a review by "Esperanza Godot" that discusses the political and safety errors in the Anarchist Cookbook.
For a detailed look at some errors, I have analyzed one paragraph from the Anarchist Cookbook:
"To conclude this chapter, I will present the most horrendous recipe I could find. Since it is not feasible to make napalm in your kitchen, you will have to be satisfied with cacodyal. This is made by chemically extracting all the oxygen from alcohol and then replacing it, under laboratory conditions, with metal arsenic. The formula for alcohol is C4H5O, whereas for cacodyal it is C4H5AR. Now, this new substance, cacodyal, possesses spontaneous inflammability, the moment it is exposed to the air. [Followed by a description of the deadly arsenic fumes it gives off]"
Now for a closer look at this paragraph: a) There isn't actually a recipe described above, unless you consider "replace oxygen with arsenic" to be a recipe. It starts out telling you something to do in your kitchen and ends up with "in laboratory conditions." b) The formula for alcohol is C2H6O (C2H5OH), not C4H5O. You can't have C4H5O. c) The valence of oxygen is 2. The valence of arsenic is 3 or 5. Thus, simply replacing oxygen with arsenic isn't possible. d) The symbol for arsenic is As, not AR. e) The Merck Index and the dictionary list cacodyl (notice the Cookbook's misspelling) as As2(CH3)2. This formula is totally different from C4H5AR.
So, there are four obvious errors and a totally useless recipe in one short paragraph. I hope this brief review has pointed out the quality of the information in the Anarchist Cookbook.
(As a random aside, the early studies of cacodyl were done by Dr. Bunsen (of burner fame), who lost one eye and nearly died of arsenic poisoning in the process.)
Some people claim that the CIA/FBI/author/whoever sabotaged the Anarchist Cookbook to blow up would-be anarchists or to make the recipes fail. However, there is little evidence to support this theory. I find it much more likely that the errors are just due to incompetence. Note that many of the above errors (e.g. wrong symbol for arsenic, wrong formula for alcohol) don't sabotage anything but are just stupid errors. I would expect that if it were deliberately sabotaged, it wouldn't have errors like these.
I received the following long but interesting message:
I was Bill Powell's roommate and close friend during the 60's when Bill wrote the book. Bill and I were working for Bookmasters, an independent bookstore chain that is no longer in business. Bill was 19 when he wrote book.
The idea of the Anarchist Cookbook was originally conceived as a series of recipes in the form of broadsides that would be pasted up all over Manhattan. Recipe #1 would be a how to for a molotov cocktail, #2 - how to make LSD, etc. The idea was never acted upon. It grew from discussions at the IWW headquarters in NYC (4th Street between C and D); this apartment also housed Resurgent Youth, and the League for Sexual Freedom. I lived there for several years before moving out and into an apartment on 10th Street between First and A with Bill.
He liked the idea and one day quit his job and started on the book. He got all his information from manuals at the public library and current magazines. Most of the stories and anecdotes were made up. Bill was never an Anarchist and had no philosophy. We had a few large arguments after I read the early drafts of the book.
At any rate he sent this out to every publisher he could find. The rejection slips were fascinating. Some were actually apologetic because they couldn't publish the book. Lyle Stuart published the book for a number of reasons. At the time Librarians across the US were being intimidated by the FBI and CIA who wanted to get names of people checking out books they felt were subversive. Lyle Stuart felt that publishing this book would make those efforts meaningless since people could simply buy the book without signing for it. Anyway Lyle did publish the book.
In my opinion the event of publishing the book was important. The contents are garbage. This was a very dangerous and brave publishing act for the 1960's.
Bill moved to Putney, VT, married, had a baby, divorced, became a right wing reactionary voice in the local college. He was in Alaska briefly working as a timekeeper in Valdez on the pipeline. I later heard that he was teaching English in Saudi Arabia.
The concept was Anarchism but the book is nihilism. He took the idea and assembled a book from other books. The rewrite consisted of replacing all photos and drawings from their sources with drawings and paraphrasing a lot of material. Lyle used it to negate FBI and CIA efforts to get names of book readers.
"Real anarchists" tell me that the "Anarchist Cookbook" has nothing to do with anarchism. Anarchism is a movement for a radicaly democratic and libertarian society. "Defining Anarchism" says:
I must tell you, first of all, what anarchism is not. It is not bombs, disorder, or chaos. It is not robbery or murder. It is not a war of each against all. It is not a return to barbarianism or to the wild state of man. Anarchism is the very opposite of all that.
More information on anarchism is available at http://flag.blackened.net/liberty/defanar.html and in the Anarchist FAQ at http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/1931
On the other hand, the interesting and somewhat academic book "Inside Terrorism" (first chapter here) describes the violent history of anarchism, and makes the interesting observation:
Much as the `information revolution' of the late twentieth century is alleged to have made the means and methods of bomb-making and other types of terrorist activity more readily available via the Internet, on CD-ROM, and through ordinary libraries and bookstores, one of anarchism's flourishing `cottage industries' more than a century earlier was the widespread distribution of similar `how-to' or DIY-type manuals and publications of violence and mayhem.
The goals of this FAQ are to provide a book review, to cut down on repetitive questions about the Anarchist Cookbook, to keep people from blowing themselves up, and to point out to journalists that books contain more dangerous information than the internet.
I would like to make it totally clear that I am not an anarchist. Also I do not advocate the overthrow of the U. S. Government by force, sabotage, violence, or terrorism.