The Anarchist Cookbook was written by William Powell as a teenager and first published in 1971 at the apex of the counterculture era to protest against United States involvement in the Vietnam War. Powell gained inspiration for his text from his experiences with Vietnam veterans throughout his time living in New York City, during which, the pacifist movements of the 1960s began to take a more violent turn, having been responsible for over 100 politically inspired bombings. Powell began plans to become a writer but decided upon a political course when he was drafted into the Vietnam war, which inspired him to write "recipes" and later compile them into a "cookbook". The initial vision of The Anarchist Cookbook was to post instructional flyers in New York City, including how to properly throw a Molotov cocktail and how to make LSD. These "recipes" were eventually adapted to make up an entire book. From 1968 to 1970, Powell began researching in the "U.S. Combat Bookshelf" at the New York Public Library, including mainstream external texts such as The Boy Scout Handbook, and anarchist texts like Fuck the System by Abbie Hoffman. The initial manuscript was sent to Lyle Stuart in 1970.
Powell begins the content of his book by discussing anarchy and anarchist theory. Anarchy, by his definition, is a wide-scale mass uprising by the people, similar to that of civil disobedience through violence. He believed that anarchy was the innate state of all individuals, and therefore human nature would drive people to participate in such practices. Powell believed that current expressions of politics, arts, music, and education all contained innate principles of anarchist ideals, thereby equating anarchism to individualism. This principle drives Powell's argumentation as he believed that the current political climate and the Vietnam war had undermined human values, therefore revolution based upon his perception of human dignity and freedom was what drove him to write the piece. He ends his introduction by warning of the seriousness that these recipes may have deadly consequences if used improperly. The chapters of The Anarchist Cookbook include descriptions and detailed instructions in hand-to-hand combat, explosives, booby traps, drugs, tear gas, sabotage and demolition, surveillance, improvised weapons, and other topics related to anarchism. 2b1af7f3a8