When I was growing up, I remember hearing stories of a book that contained information so dangerous and controversial that to own a copy, even an electronic one, could get you in trouble with the authorities. This was because the book contained a set of instructions on how to, amongst other things, construct explosive devices and synthesise illegal narcotics. This infamous book, which has now sold more than 2 million copies, has been linked to countless acts of violence around the world including the Columbine massacre and the Oklahoma City bombing. I am, of course, talking about the Anarchists Cook Book, which was written by 19-year-old William Powell in the early 1970s at the height of the Vietnam War Protests. I have recently got hold of a copy and, after reading it, my honest opinion is that I can’t see what all the fuss was about.
I got myself a copy of the book and once it arrived I began to read it and was almost immediately disappointed. Once I got past the rather obnoxious 16 pages on the the subject of “anarchism today”, followed by Powell’s introduction to the book, which reads very much like the angry ramblings of an angst-ridden teenage boy, I finally arrived at chapter one which is about the synthesis and purification of drugs.
Overall, this initial chapter is not dangerous because it tells people how to synthesise and purify illegal drugs, but because it contains instructions that could result in someone getting killed. It is clear that Powell simply read a handful of papers on the subject and thought you could easily substitute professional chemistry equipment with everyday household objects and achieve the same goal. Without a good understanding of chemistry, Powell ended up writing a chapter in which his choice of equipment, choice of solvents, and disregard for containment is a disaster waiting to happen. That is if you are able to get hold of the chemicals and the glassware required to attempt anything in this chapter in the first place.