From Free Life No 15, November 1991

William Powell
various publishers, 1971.

This book has enjoyed a wide, if often clandestine, circulation since it was first published. It has been fashionable even for those who have never seen a copy to refer to it with a knowing air whenever the subject of explosives or drugs is raised. Certainly, it has been called a "manual of terror" by Max Geltman, writing in the National Review for the 22nd July 1971. I find this phrase aptly descriptive, but not in the same sense that Mr. Geltman would have us believe.

The "Cookbook" consists of three basic parts: an introduction by Professor Bergman entitled "Anarchism Today"; and two much longer sections by William Powell on drug and explosive manufacturing.

If ever there was an example of Orwellian doublespeak, this is it! "Anarchism Today" is basically an interpretation of the philosophic roots of anarchism, awkwardly coupled with sketchy reference to current events. Almost all of the intellectuals discussed are from the nineteenth century; and there is virtually no mention of writings from 1930 to the present. This may be expected from someone who appears to have briefly studied the topic while at college during the 1920s, and thereafter relied only on superficial newspaper accounts. Professor Bergman should have been aware of Albert Jay Nock, for example; and anarchists today are certainly aware of Murray Rothbard, Karl Hess, et al.

Professor Bergman considers Nihilism to be a form of Anarchism, and Anarchism a form of radical revolutionism. He interprets Marxism in an anarchistic light, and correctly suggests that communist governmants are feudalist and reactionary. However, his emphasis on the Marxist element in anarchist intellectual tradition is clearly one-sided. A more thorough and fair analysis covering the same time period can be found in Native American Anarchism, published in 1932 by Eunice Minette Schuster.

The emphasis on the Nihilistic and destructive aspects of Anarchism I find disturbing. This emphasis seems to arise from the axiom that the State is all, so to oppose the State is to oppose everything. Anarchists do not have to propose a concrete alternative because that would be authoritarian.

The rest of the book consists mainly of drug and explosive recipes relayed to us by William Powell. His motivation for doing so is supposedly to allow the "silent majority" access to information which he claims only the radical groups now possess. The idea of a "silent majority" comes from classical Greek literature and in that context referred to the dead who are the real majority. If you follow the steps outlined in these recipes, you may soon join them! The Library Journal for the 15th March 1971, puts it this way:

Much of it is so sketchy as to be harmless, but there are a number of booby traps still for the nitwit who wishes to try them. There are drug making recipes... that may make one very ill.... There are also a number of stunts which could backfire on the idiot who tried them.

Ed Rosenthal told me that he had spent a lot of time trying to track down the rumours of pot growing in the New York sewers. Well, I may just have stumbled on the origin of the "New York White" rumours. Despite what Powell may think, plants are not as adaptable as alligators and need light to grow. Another choice quote: "...strangely enough, insects ignore marijuana and do no harm".

The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has a Precursor Control Program watch list. This means that if you buy large quantities of the ingredients for illegal chemicals, the Federal Government may take an interest in your activities. Several chemicals on this list are used in Mr Powell's LSD recipe, such as acetonitrile, trifluroacetic anhydride, dimethylformamide, and diethylamine. Benzine is also on the list, and may also arouse the interest of the Environmental Protection Agency because it is a known carcinogen.

The British Government remains rather less paranoid about drugs, but is rapidly catching up with the Americans. And, while the Home Office has as yet no similar list, chemical suppliers are legally obliged to report suspicious purchases to the local Police.

Much the same can be said regarding Mr Powell's other recipes, and in some cases the in-gredients are as hard to get as the final products. For instance, his recipe for DMT starts out with indole, which is quite hard to obtain. Much better methods using L. Tryptophane (available in health food shops) are covered in various back numbers of Synthesis.

Again, ground nutmeg is suggested for a psychedelic experience. Yet in the quantities needed for one to get high on it, nutmeg is rather poisonous! However, the oil extracted from nutmeg, containing myristicin, can be used in the synthesising of MMDA - a better and mellower drug than MDA - more information about which is in the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs (vol. 8, no. 4, Oct-Dec 1976).

On page 58 of the Cookbook, nalline is described as "...a freak - a drug someone forgot to make illegal". Perhaps the Americans forgot because nalorphine is a powerful narcotic antagonist, which may produce violent convulsive reactions in morphine addicts. I should also point out to British readers - whom, I grant, Mr Powell is not mainly addressing - that the substance is in the controlled schedule of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and is as illegal in unauthorised hands as amphetamine.

For more information, I would refer the reader to "The Clandestine Drug Laboratory Situation", in the U.S. Journal of Forensic Sciences (Jan 1983, pp. 18-31). This article, written by the Chief of the DEA, reports tha none of the 17 laboratories busted during the previous year was successful in producing what was intended to be produced. The busted chemists were relying on recipes from popular underground drug manufacturing books. It was noted that such books contained errors which prevented the manufacture of the desired chemicals, while at the same time urging purchases that drew the attention of the authorities.

This being said, I turn now to Mr Powell's recommendations for the manufacture of explosives.

His method for producing mercury fulminate is incomplete and dangerous. Between steps 2 and 3, the solution should be cooled. Do not breathe the fumes. For further information, see A Dictionary of Applied Chemistry by Sir Edward Thorpe.

The recipe for TNT is also incomplete and dangerous. In step 1, mixing sulphuric and nitric acid will most likely result in fulmination and red toxic fumes. And the crude method described does not cover the removal of the ortho dinitro groups. If this were not done, the TNT would be extremely unstable. However, they can be removed with great ease by heating the crude material with aqueous sodium sulphite. For further information, see "Chemistry of Explosives", by George Wright of the University of Toronto, in his Organic Chemistry, p. 974.

The description of picric acid does not sufficiently emphasise its unstable nature. For example, storing it in a cracked glass container may cause it to explode. Conversely, on page 120, Mr Powell describes two relatively safe and eaily obtained chemicals - potassium bichromate and potassium permanganate - as very sensitive, unstable, and too hazardous to work with.

There are a couple of pages devoted to general safety precautions, but the language suggests that they have been lifted from a military manual. Also, German spellings are used for some chemicals. If you attempt to order chemicals from an American or British supplier using German spellings, your order may be looked at with suspicion, even if what you are ordering is not in itself suspicious.

The Anarchist Cookbook was originally published in 1971. The review by The Library Journal, in which the above and other errors were exposed, came shortly after. Why has the book been reprinted many times since then, but never corrected? My theory is that Mr Powell is not an anarchist, but is spreading disinformation to actual or potential enemies of the United States Government. In 1971, he was an unknown undergraduate aged 21. Where did he get access to his "information"? He says he got it from radical friends, both left and right.

The Minuteman Manual is listed in the Bibliography. The original Minutemen were Colonial American revolutionaries. In the 1960s, the name was adopted by a radical offshoot from the John Birch Society: this offshoot has since been disbanded by the FBI. It is not likely that these modern Minutemen would have handed out their manual to a long haired undergraduate. Add to this that both the above movements were opposed to the United Nations, and that Mr Powell's father was a very important official in the United nations. For further information, see Newsweek, 12th April, 1971.

This same William Powell has also written Saudi Arabia and its Royal Family, published in 1982. This consists of a series of interviews with members of the Saudi Royal Family and other observations that came to his mind while he was teaching a the University of Ryadh. It does not seem likely that the Saudi Royal Family would give such generous treatment to a real anarchist. Reading through the book, I came across some interesting quotes. Take, for example this:

Were something or someone to cut the flow of oil from the Arabian Gulf, the result would be truly apocalyptic for the United States, Western Europe, Japan, and much of the developing world.... In a worst-case scenario, all gasoline available would go to essential services such as the military, the police and fire departments, and the transport of foodstuffs. Most nonessential businesses and industries would close. Unemployment would skyrocket.
All major cities would, in all probability, have to be placed under martial law. Curfews would be imposed at gunpoint.... Inflation would metamorphose... into a lethal epidemic. We would enter a wheelbarrow economy like that of Germany before Hitler's rise to power....(p. 17)

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. His pessimistic analysis does not take full account of the market's ability to conserve and switch to alternative fuels. Moreover, I am concerned that Mr Powell seems to believe that government is as essential as the transport of foodstuffs, and that it can solve the fuel crisis through the draconian methods he describes. A real anarchist would point out that such a crisis would make the government easier to overthrow - which is the prime objective of anarchism.

It just doesn't add up, unless the alternative theory is accepted, that Mr Powell's information was fed to him by some organ of the American State. A U.S. Air Force combat controllers group studying guerilla warfare has arrived at a similar conclusion.

Let me conclude by quoting Mr Powell from the 12th April 1971 issue of Newsweek:

My book places power in the hands of the individual, where it belongs. The right calls it communist, the leftists call it profiteering, the liberals call it neo-Nazi.

Well, Mr Powell, this reviewer calls it bullshit!

Esperanza Godot


This Review was sent to me with an American postmark, but without a return address. Neither I nor anyone I have asked has ever heard of its author, and I assume the name "Esperanza Godot" to be a pseudonym. I have decided to publish it, but feel that I must add the following:

It is illegal to make or possess explosives or controlled drugs. It is illegal to possess certain ingredients for making the same, or any materials or equipment intended for their making. It is illegal to publish information that can be construed as intending to aid or abet the commission of the above offences.

The reader is advised to regard Ms Godot's Review not as an incitement to break the law, but as a warning to keep it. Though I am ignorant of chemistry, I am now persuaded to doubt the truth or safety of every recipe given in The Anarchist Cookbook. At the same time, I cannot judge the truth or safety of the improvements recommended by Ms Godot, or by The Library Journal article to which she refers. At least one of these is spreading falsehoods, but I cannot say which. Therefore, if for no other reason than the avoidance of some ghastly chemical mistake, it seems best to leave the making of explosives and controlled drugs well alone.