It’s rare that an author wants to see his most famous work taken out of print.
But that’s the case with Willaim Powell’s “The Anarchist Cookbook,” a guide to weapons and bomb-making, written 36 years ago, during the turbulent 1960s, by a 19-year-old fresh out of high school.
Powell has taken the unusual step of renouncing his work in an author’s review on Amazon.com, one of many retail venues still selling the book.
“I have recently been made aware of several websites that focus on ‘The Anarchist Cookbook,’” writes Powell. “As the author of the original publication some 30 plus years ago, it is appropriate for me to comment.”
Powell explains that the book was written during 1968 and part of 1969 soon after he 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,” he recalls. “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.”
He says he did most of the research in the New York City Public Library, gleaning most of the contents from military and Special Forces manuals.
“I submitted the manuscript directly to a number of publishers without the help or advice of an agent,” he writes. “Ultimately, it was accepted by Lyle Stuart Inc. and was published verbatim without editing in early 1970. Contrary to what is the normal custom, the copyright for the book was taken out in the name of the publisher rather than the author. I did not appreciate the significance of this at the time and would only come to understand it some years later when I requested that the book be taken out of print.”
Powell says the central idea to the book is that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change.
“I no longer agree with this,” he writes.
Since it was published, Powell married, had children and became a teacher.
“These developments had a profound moral and spiritual effect on me,” he writes. “I found that I no longer agreed with what I had written earlier and I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the ideas that I had put my name to. In 1976 I became a confirmed Anglican Christian and shortly thereafter I wrote to Lyle Stuart Inc. explaining that I no longer held the views that were expressed in the book and requested that ‘The Anarchist Cookbook’ be taken out of print. The response from the publisher was that the copyright was in his name and therefore such a decision was his to make not the author’s. In the early 1980s, the rights for the book were sold to another publisher. I have had no contact with that publisher (other than to request that the book be taken out of print) and I receive no royalties.”
Powell calls it “unfortunate” that the book remains in print.
“I want to state categorically that I am not in agreement with the contents of ‘The Anarchist Cookbook’ and I would be very pleased (and relieved) to see its publication discontinued,” he concludes. “I consider it to be a misguided and potentially dangerous publication which should be taken out of print.”