Written when he was an angry young man, William Powell’s bestselling 1971 book The Anarchist Cookbook is equal parts revolutionary manifesto and instruction manual for making bombs and other devices designed to kill humans. In a better world, its worst sin would be that the title isn’t The Anarchist’s Cookbook — but as demonstrated by Charlie Siskel’s documentary American Anarchist, the lack of a possessive is the least of its problems. The 65-year-old Powell has since gone on to work around the world with at-risk youth of the sort who might be otherwise drawn to the Cookbook, and Siskel interviews Powell about its legacy, trying to get him to accept some degree of responsibility for a book he regrets and wishes would just go away.
Early on, Powell claims the book’s “over-the-top, exaggerated rhetoric” about violently overthrowing the government was just him trying to get people “to think for themselves,” which is some Milo-worthy weaseling right there. (He also says his research was mostly done with military manuals available at the library, so as usual, librarians are the real villains.) American Anarchist makes the interesting choice of saving Powell’s difficult childhood for the end, and while it was tragic, most people with difficult childhoods didn’t go on to write books about how to make bombs.
Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.