The Wrong Hands: Popular Weapons Manuals and Their Historic Challenges to a Democratic Society

By Ann Larabee | Go to book overview

3
The Anarchist Cookbook

Published in 1971, The Anarchist Cookbook is an infamous compendium of information—from the useful to the ridiculous—for handling firearms and making eavesdropping and phone-hacking devices, drugs, and explosive weapons. The first truly popular dangerous technical manual, it has become the literary equivalent of a folk devil: a textual deviant, a threat to society, and the stuff of urban legends. Widely imitated and plagiarized, it has achieved the status of a popular culture icon and become a cult classic among the curious, the rebellious, and the disaffected. It is also a red flag to the police and has appeared in US courts many times as evidence of conspiracy and malevolent motive. In some countries, including Great Britain, a person can be thrown in jail for simply owning The Anarchist Cookbook or one of its many spin-offs. In murder cases involving teens, it is often mentioned as a defining factor in their anomic development. In one murder case, it was mentioned in the court record as The Antichrist Cookbook.1

What has made The Anarchist Cookbook so resonant over time is its bald assertion of the people’s right to stigmatized technical information. Stewart Brand’s popular Whole Earth Catalogue had been published only two years before, in 1969, promoting human-scale technologies and a do-it-yourself ethos that spanned back-to-the-land communal and nomadic living, psychonautics, and tool-making. The Anarchist Cookbook echoed this countercultural interest in DIY tools and techniques, but replaced utopian community and whole systems with theft, rebellion, and creative destruction. Its author, William Powell, adopted the anarchist stereotype of the bomb thrower and reformulated an anarchism of information: information that by its very existence within a radical context resists the control of the state. Practicing anarchists would like to disavow the book for perpetuating a “dated comic book caricature” of them, but have missed its importance as an unsettling argument about danger, freedom, and knowledge that has given it an astonishing longevity.2

The Anarchist Cookbook emerged out of panic over a brief, dramatic surge in bombings of corporate offices, public utilities, military recruitment offices and

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The Wrong Hands: Popular Weapons Manuals and Their Historic Challenges to a Democratic Society
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Science of Revolutionary Warfare 15
  • 2 - Sabotage 36
  • 3 - The Anarchist Cookbook 64
  • 4 - Hitmen 90
  • 5 - Monkeywrenching 108
  • 6 - Ka Fucking Boom 131
  • 7 - Vast Libraries of Jihad and Revolution 152
  • 8 - Weapons of Mass Destruction 171
  • Conclusion 185
  • Notes 191
  • Selected Bibliography 221
  • Index 239
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