10 Years Ago: The Anarchist Cookbook

Ten years ago on Boing Boing I wrote about how the author of The Anarchist Cookbook renounced his book on Amazon.com
201009061418 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.

...

The central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change. I no longer agree with this.

During the years that followed its publication, I went to university, married, became a father and a teacher of adolescents. These developments had a profound moral and spiritual effect on me. 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 1980's, 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.

Unfortunately, the book continues to be in print and with the advent of the Internet several websites dealing with it have emerged. 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. I consider it to be a misguided and potentially dangerous publication which should be taken out of print.

The author of The Anarchist Cookbook (written in 1968-69) tells Amazon customers that he "would like to see the publication discontinued."

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  1. when did he sign over the rights? Under US law, he can terminate that grant of rights within a five-year window–between 35 and 40 years after the grant. 17 USC s.203.

  2. If you don’t “put your name to” ideas that you later become “increasingly uncomfortable with,” you’re not trying hard enough. Great story.

  3. As long as there are angry teenagers in the world, there’s money to be made off a book written by an angry teenager. That’s the bottom line for the publishers.

    Above else, however, I’m glad to hear the author grew up and is living a decent and happy life. When I was a kid with the Cookbook, I pictured the author as being some kind of fringe nutcase living in a condemned building somewhere with his kegs of black powder and homemade LSD. I never knew it was written by a disillusioned teenager. Knowing it now puts the book in a much clearer light.

    1. The only reason a lot of pop artists own the copyright of ‘their’ music is because they’re credited as the writer or co-writer … even though normally they aren’t. Although that’s a different circumstance, It’s not uncommon for what might be considered the logical copyright holder not to be.

    2. Most likely, the book was a work for hire.

      Here’s a semi-serious idea: let’s have a shorter copyright term for works for hire, as opposed to works of authorship. Let’s say 14 years, non-renewable.

    3. This was published in 1971, before the US signed on the the Berne Convention in 1988. Back then, it was a lot easier for creators to lose their rights.

      1. Both before and after the US ratified Berne, you can sell or give away your rights to a work. It’s just part of the nature of copyrights. You’re free to do with them what you wish, including giving them to someone else. The alienability of copyrights is a slightly separate issue from the “works for hire” exception, which others have raised in this thread already.

        Even as someone who thinks that there’s a lot wrong with copyright, alienability isn’t one of those things. Now, the ability of authors and musicians to get a fair contract that doesn’t take advantage of their lessened bargaining power–well, that’s going to be a problem whether we’re talking about copyrights or any other contract term.

    4. Yeah, this is pretty common. When I worked in the publishing office of an academic journal on bio research, the authors were required to transfer copyright of their articles to the publisher. They did not retain copyright unless they were a government employee (think NIH or CDC), in which case the government, not the publisher, retained copyright.

      I don’t actually know the reasoning for it. Maybe so that authors can’t publish their papers in several journals all at once?

  4. The cookbook was so full of inaccurate and dangerous recipes that most people in the counter culture believed it was written by the CIA to kill as many of us off as possible.

  5. I’m curious as to why a English teenager was worried about being drafted by the US military to fight in Vietnam.

    1. Uhhh… We were all being drafted, dude. Haven’t you ever heard Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant or seen Woodstock, or M*A*S*H (the movie, not the Alan Alda PC liberal jibberjabber)? You could get a student deferrment if you went to college and kept your grades up, maybe. If you’d gone through high school and reached the ripe old age of 18, you were eligible. After awhile, since poor black kids got drafted more often than rich white kids, they made the draft a Lottery. Everybody eligible got a number, and the high numbers could forget about Vietnam. Low numbers got the call. IIRC, my number was fairly high, so I was never drafted.

      But I’d already volunteered for the draft (another, especially stupid, option) and got classified 1-Y for various private defects: Bad vision, hammer toe, severe asthma, and so on. Amazing how much better that made me feel. 1-Y! That meant they’d only call me up if Ho Chi Minh invaded Des Moines. I had an acquaintance who made it to Canada before the pressure closed the border to “draft dodgers,” but most of my friends were honest activist college students who yelled and marched and got their pictures taken by Richard Nixon. Somewhere in the FBI archives, there’s probably a few thousand scrapbooks with similar faces on every page, but I don’t think those guys could tell us apart. Groupthink, we all looked alike.

      Maybe you’re just trolling, but hopefully you’ve caught a small miasma of memories about another weird time in America. HTH.

  6. “The central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change. I no longer agree with this.”

    Unfortunately, the people who hold positions of power in this world do agree with it.

    1. The problem is that when those in power deny you your voice, ignore or crush your protests, and remove every other legitimate path for dialog then force is all you have left.

  7. I had this on a floppy disk on Commodore Amiga in 1990-ish. All I remember is the phone phreaking stuff and the bananas.

  8. This book gave me hope when I was younger and had less to lose, should my last freedoms be taken away by the government. I hope the author doesn’t feel responsible for inciting anyone into acts of violence. There are many “dangerous” books and other writings like this, with authors ranging from anarchy-minded 20-somethings, to military officers writing sensitive field manuals that they never expected to be disseminated beyond the DoD. And all points in between.

    Please don’t blame yourself. Writing this book made the world less dangerous, if it had any effect at all. It ended brutal cases of schoolyard bullying, by bringing the case of Mutually Assured Destruction to the average citizen. And there are volumes of similar material, from all kinds of sources.

    The only thing you can share any responsibility for is having armed the world’s citizens against increasingly secretive, corrupt, and inhumane governments.

    I wish I could find the manual so I could post a link, if it’s still available. But there are alot of books & pamphlets that discuss non-violent resistance, mainly through sabotage. Removing/changing street signs, destroying street lights, cutting every cable you see, blocking busy roads with large objects, damaging tires on vehicles used by the occupying force. Damage fuel pumps, but don’t torch the filling station.
    After all, we won’t be allowed to drive, or have internet or possibly even electricity – but they will. And the occupation will quickly become too expensive to maintain if enough people know & use the proper techniques.

  9. Rob did you ever try the banana thing? Most sources I’ve checked say it’s myth, but I don’t think many of them had tried it, or if they did they maybe did it incorrectly.

  10. I’ve heard it said that anyone who follows the recommendations of the Anarchist Cookbook is more likely to endanger themselves than the authorities, and that many of the explosives recipes are either useless or extremely dangerous. Certainly, a lot of the information seems to be apocryphal or unreliable at best.

    I bought a copy many years ago, not because I wanted to overthrow the state, but because I thought it might be useful reference material for fiction writing. What I remember best are the parts that explain how, if you are caught trying to destroy the oppressive government of Amerika, you should insist on the rights and protections guaranteed to you by the Constitution.

    There’s next to nothing about actual anarchist theory (i.e. the intellectual and philosophical framework of anarchism). I could well believe that it was written by an angry teenager.

  11. When I was barely out of high school I held the author’s current day views after having read his book. Almost 25 years later, with the rise of the teabaggers, I’m beginning to drift toward the author’s views from when he wrote the book.

  12. Ah, The Anarchist Cookbook; of particular interest to those of us who were rebellious teens in the seventies, when we were old enough to remember the heyday of the Symbionese Liberation Army, Abbie Hoffman’s fugitive days, and New Times magazine, but had no connection to what was left of the American underground, so this and Steal This Book were what we had instead of real samizdat.

    There were a couple of urban legends surrounding this book: the first was that the FBI received the name of anyone who bought a copy from a bookstore, something that a friend of mine easily disproved by getting his copy for cash, no questions asked (I think he may have even worn a hat and sunglasses to the bookstore in case they had security cameras). The other was that Powell, under the direction of the FBI, deliberately wrote the bomb and drug recipes without sufficient security precautions, so that anyone attempting to make explosives would end up blowing themselves up, a la the Weathermen explosion in Greenwich Village. (CrimethInc., a latter-day anarchist collective, says as much in their own “anarchist cookbook”, although they don’t seem to be directly accusing Powell of being a government plant.)

    1. Yes, the banana thing is a myth, and I have it on the authority of a scientist who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a National Medal of Science winner (but one whom I will coyly not name as it was during a dinner where alcohol flowed freely) — I quote “Back then, there was this rumor that you could get high from smoking banana peels. Well, of course we tried it in the lab — it didn’t do shit. We even tried concentrating the stuff and looking at it with mass spec but there weren’t any reasonable candidate molecules. What a rip!”

  13. youthful folly? misdirected political ethos? banning books? objective media? same discussion 10 years later, still teaching us by the free information in wrong hands can be bad method. the book definitely has given some stupid people some bad advice, conversely contains intelligence too, which has been used for good. an epochal tome, it is forever ensconsed in human history…or is it just a bunch of recipes on how to eat a bunch of anarchists(remove beard, horn rim glasses, wash thoroughly, beware of sharp ideological outbursts…) an early DIY maker book.

  14. “The central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change. I no longer agree with this.”

    “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

    -Thomas Jefferson.

      1. “Hold on, let’s celebrate by f****** some underage slaves, AFTER I finish my letter to William Henry Harrison advocating Indian removal.”

        –Thomas Jefferson

  15. Haha!

    Obnoxious person who likes to force his ideological views on people still wants to do so, just for the other side now! Color me surprised.

    Violence doesn’t work, censorship is better!

    I still hate that guy.

  16. The only place I have ever seen the Anarchist Cookbook for sale is through mail order. I have long believed what you would really get if you ordered it is your own inclusion on an FBI list of those that might use violence. If they ever get around to doing mass detentions I’m pretty sure that everyone who ever ordered it will be picked up.

    Not to say that it might not be useful knowledge given the success of fascist thoughts and action by the right. Imagine an Palin/neocon presidency put into power by fixed voting machines. Is there any limit to what they would do? Certainly there didn’t seem to be during the Bush years.

    1. @allie wrote: “The only place I have ever seen the Anarchist Cookbook for sale is through mail order.”

      If I remember correctly, I bought my copy at that hub of subversive anti-establishment thought known as the Yale Co-Op (the official campus store for Yale University in New Haven).

        1. I did wonder, and not for the first time. Frankly, I’ve ceased to care. There must be so many people on the list, we would all need to be rounded up and put someplace “safe”. Think about it. Engineers, warriors, healers, spiritual people, artists, communicators, entrepreneurs (some of them, if they’re not too far gone) would all be crammed into these confined spaces, with little to do other than be tormented by those guards who were too stupid or too twisted to not see through the crap the world had become.

          That realization and exposure would mean we would all band together, after the initial conflicts were resolved, and the slow, grudging dawning of mutual respect would then create a subversive regime within the holding tanks/camps, ultimately befriend a few of the smarter guards, make a plan, then coordinate with all the other camps, and take over the system from within the jails, and rise up, splitting our forces in two, while one fights the holding battle, the other can go after the one thing that could foil our amazing plan, all with a perfectly coordinated and heart-rending Public Information Campaign to educate all the people who have been hoodwinked by the corporations and their toady governments…

          Hey wait, that’s the plot for Serenity!

    2. I recall that a “smoking accessories” shop stocked the book. (But then, I figured that such places passed along any information from a non-cash payment, anyway.) The library at UT Austin also had it in the stacks, although we didn’t try actually checking it out. There used to be a bookstore in Austin, I’m not sure if they carried the Cookbook, but they had a bunch of titles from the Loompanics catalog.

  17. The guy who published The Anarchist’s Cookbook is (or was, as of three years ago or so) the high school principal of the International School of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I think much of his views on violent struggle now are made with the perspective of an educator and someone who deals with angry teens on a daily basis.

    Also, if you read the full introduction to The Anarchist’s Cookbook, you’ll find that it was written after some weeks of research in the New York Public Library.

  18. I owned a copy of that when I was a teen in the 80s. I found it valuable in a way so that I could really think about what I was doing. I never tried out some of the dangerous things in it because it was obvious that they were dangerous, and I wanted to keep all my digits.

    I bought it at a military surplus store. The kind that were everywhere back then. The guy that sold it to me was a nice older gentleman.

    I actually really like the new book with a similar title: Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchists Cookbook. That one is fantastic, and discusses how to really deal with a lot of different issues, along with some great ideas on making plastic blow up float animals, or linoleum tile street markers to get your message across.

  19. Once something has been born, it cannot be unborn. The ideas are out there, and as many commenters have said, a lot of the stuff in there is either incorrect or dangerous. The stuff that IS dangerous no doubt has other sources of information about them available. It’s on the Internet… how hard can it be to find stuff out? And it’s not going to get any harder, unless what the book’s naive author was afraid of comes to pass. A totalitarian regime that does not act with integrity to the people it governs, and uses all means at it’s disposal to winkle out anyone who disagrees with the PR of the day… which could change tomorrow, so you’d better pay attention…

    The author clearly gave up his moral rights as well as the copyright. He would have recourse to something, I believe?

    I wonder if he ever says to himself, “So, THAT’S what it feels like to be a Tin Pan Alley songwriter!”

  20. A long time ago a lot of the lefties thought this was a work of governmental agents spreading disinformation. Guess that was *kinda* true…

  21. Growing up in suburban United States I experimented, without parental permission, with explosives, firearms and always at separate times drugs. All of these things really freaked out my parents but I always felt that there was no line in technology that was legal vs illegal, besides I reasoned that the worst they could give me was juvie. I also played with cars, welding, chainsaws, airplanes, radio equipment, and chemistry. I had very little money so almost everything was liberated dumpster contents, yard sales, or cheap hardware store fare.

    I had printouts from the anarchist cookbook along with other so called anarchy files and the military Improvised Munitions Handbook. The latter is what teens should use if they want to blow stuff up on the cheap, it actually tries to make the whole practice as safe as it could possibly be including safety steps along the way.

    While people might want to ban the teaching or learning of how weapons are made it is these skills that allow the downtrodden to fight for liberation. The Anglo-American system of law and individual rights stems from armed parties not controlled by a despotic king demanding rights.

  22. I downloaded and printed this book in 1998 or 1999, grade 7, and was pulled out of school by the RCMP to talk about it. They told me my friend’s mom found it under his bed, and called them, and went on to say they were going to destroy the book (by burning it)…
    I called them nazis.

  23. copyright? purchase? I was under the impression that the only righteous way to come by this book was to photo-copy a friend’s photo-copy.

    … or so I’ve heard.

  24. While I do not condone violence or anarchy, I consider the Anarchist Cookbook to have been a major influence in my pursuit into the chemical engineering field. I believe the author’s desire to remove this gem from print would be a loss culturally. However, it’s on the internet now, so good luck with that.

  25. I think that this is one of those things that is inherently more attractive when you’re younger. I know that I was VERY interested in the Cookbook and explosives and such when I was younger.

    Violence seems to be the shortest line between where you are, and where you want to be. Everything is black or white, and you never think that you’re the bad guy. When you’re a teenager, you have nothing to lose, because you don’t have much.

    As we get older, we see more shades of gray. We recognize that the simplest solution isn’t necessarily the best. And we start doubting our own infallibility. “Nothing to lose,” turns into, “What will happen to my husband/wife and kids.”

    We grow up, and find better ways. Those of us who never lose our fascination with things that go boom have a better fourth of July. And many a chemist I know got their start brewing up dangerous chemicals in the garage.

  26. Another ex-hippie with regrets – meh.

    There is an assumption that this book had unique information in it – not really. It was a pretty bland book. The origin of a lot of the info was actually a US Army manual which was published during the Viet-Nam era.

    So copyright?? Good luck on that angle.

    BTW they used to sell both books in an army/navy store in a mall near me. The irony still makes me grin.

  27. Around 1990 I was curious about this book but bookshops in Amsterdam – where I live – did not sell it. After some searching I discovered that a guy in an anarchist bookshop in Amsterdam (part of the squatting movement and more then just a bookshop, more like an information hub for that movement) had the book in his private collection. As a service to customers of the bookshop he could provide photocopies of rare anarchist books for a small charge. After two weeks I collected a carefully packed set of A3 copies. About one year later the guy was exposed as an essential informant for an intelligence department of Dutch law enforcement (CRI). I wonder if the book really was part of his own ‘private library’ or that some law enforcement member did all the copy labor. The book however was nothing more then a curiosity.

  28. My copy, 3 or 4th edition was purchased solely because the then publisher, Lyle Stuart IIRC, had placed a small ad in the New York Times for the book.

    The NY Times, advertising The Anarchist’s Cookbook.

    Really, how could anyone resist?

  29. The comments on this post increase my faith in humanity. I’m glad so many people were able to spot the hidden censorship issue.

  30. On a lighter note…

    Last year, I brought my copy of The Anarchist Cookbook to the Penny Arcade Expo, and asked Wil Wheaton to sign it as his character Chaos (a bad-guy hacker) from the episode of Leverage that had aired the week before.

    He thought about how he would sign it for a moment, then produced this (link to picture).

    It’s in my Wunderkammer…. I love it!

  31. I’m sure if I dig around in the boxes of books in the basement, I can find my copy of the book. I bought it between ’69 and ’71, and it joined the book that Popular Science (I think it was them, I could be wrong)put out in the 1930s, that I got from my dad, that told you how to create everything from colored smoke bombs to breast developer.

  32. I’m reminded of the remark, “never trust anyone over thirty.” Apparently that applies even to the kind of people who were fond of saying it before they turned 30.

  33. I’ve read that statement when I originally bought the book (about 5 years ago in my mid-20’s…I’m a terrible rebelious teenager). I thought he’d be more effective by working with the publisher to put out a counter argument of why the book shouldn’t be taken seriously, which would have the benefit of also making him money. Trying to fight his younger self’s ideas by banning them from being read just doesn’t work, nor does it do anything about other works with the same ideas.

    I also thought the book was hilarious in both its jeuvenile world view and its horrible datedness (you can sabotage computers by fucking with the punch cards!).

  34. “The central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change.”
    “I found that I no longer agreed with what I had written earlier.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auschwitz_concentration_camp#Birkenau_revolt

    Violence in cases of self-defense is, er, still unacceptable?

    I guess Gandhi agreed, but I don’t.

    “Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. As it is, they succumbed anyway in their millions.”

    * The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (1950) by Louis Fischer. The quote is in the the context of Gandhi’s argument to his biographer that collective suicide would have been a heroic response that would have “aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler’s violence”.

  35. Nonviolence and indiscriminate violence are equally useless. Though great people, Gandhi and King changed nothing. It’s the threat of possible, future violence that gets things done.

    In general terms, when dealing with someone perfectly willing to take your rights or kill you, why would you think they care that you disagree? The sit-ins, strikes, the marches of that era worked for two reasons: hundreds of thousands of people in solidarity is incredibly intimidating; and labor/commerce-related civil disobedience is economic warfare.

    Full disclosure: violence against violent, inhuman assholes is fine by me. But if and only if it won’t hurt your movement in the long term.

  36. That book is crap and full of inaccurate recipes and/or purposeful disinformation (as noted by previous posters).

    Also, yet another “radical” from back in the day now a regretful sell-out who went christian and probably also votes for conservatives, now? so cliche’ ***blech***

  37. The rumors and theories about how purchases of the book are tracked are truly bizarre and just one of the joys of putting copies in the window of the bookstore I work at every so often. What’s best is when you get the chance to explain to school teachers that no, it’s not illegal to sell, because that’s not how First Amendment rights work. Otherwise? Kind of a shitty book.

  38. The central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change. I no longer agree with this.

    Well the question is, “acceptable to whom?”

    The powers that be certainly agree that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political sameness.

    And they certainly don’t give a snot whether you agree or not.

  39. We already have fixed elections. The media pretend everything is fine. “Gee, it’s sure weird that exit polls don’t match election results any more. I wonder what’s wrong with the exit polls now?”

    We already have mass detentions. They’re called “prisons.” Camps are what you call them when they’re in some other country.

    We already have whole classes of people who can’t drive or use the internet or even get their electricity turned on. They’re called “the homeless,” and every year another crop of unemployed people runs out of benefits and joins the crowd. Twenty-five years ago this was considered a “crisis,” as I recall.

    Oh wait, “occupation,” right you’re waiting for some FOREIGN, BROWN-SKINNED ARMY to impose all this on us. Because THEN, that would be BAD.

  40. As a librarian on an overseas Army post in the 1980’s, one of my patrons (a family member) requested this book interlibrary loan from the head Army library in our region. Since this was my patron’s right to do, I forwarded the request, only to receive a message of “who wants to see this?”. I told them I wasn’t going to pass that along, as Americans have the right to privacy on what we check out. Much grumbling and mumbling later, the book arrived. I notified the patron, who came in, looked at the cover of the book, and gave it back to me to return. Their purpose in requesting the book was to see if it would appear. I thought it was a great demonstration of what rights still existed for military family members at the time (not sure if the request would go through these days, but one can only hope.) I think the book was pulled from the collection after that, so it no longer showed up in the region’s catalog…

  41. This book was a integral part of my teens. It was a great outlet for my anti-social, anti-authority imagination. I still have distrust of these imposed authorities, however I have learned to channel them into more productive methods. I don’t have my copy anymore. I would love to get one and add it to my shelf as a memento of what helped shape me. I am a firm believer that information is NEVER dangerous. However misinformation is ALWAY dangerous.

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