Skip to content

A Deeper Look into the "American Anarchist"

"American Anarchist" is a thought-provoking exploration of the legacy of a controversial book and its author, offering a nuanced portrayal of a man grappling with the consequences of his youthful actions.

Keywords: Anarchy, The Anarchist Cookbook, William Powell, Social Impact, Counterculture, Documentary Analysis, American Anarchist

Three words: Provocative, Insightful, Controversial


"American Anarchist" is a gripping documentary directed by Charlie Siskel, released in 2016. The film delves into the life of William Powell, the author of one of the most contentious books in American history, "The Anarchist Cookbook". Written when Powell was just 19, the book remains a symbol of the counterculture upheaval of the late 1960s and early 70s.


"American Anarchist" is a candid exploration of Powell's life and the enduring influence of his notorious book. The film features extensive interviews with Powell, now in his 60s, as it traces the book's role in his life, from its conception and publication to its lasting and often controversial impact on society.

More Film Analysis


The documentary not only examines the historical context of "The Anarchist Cookbook", but also delves into the personal journey of its author. It highlights the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by Powell, providing a nuanced portrayal of a man grappling with the consequences of his youthful actions.

Historical and Factual Context

"American Anarchist" provides a comprehensive overview of the turbulent era in which "The Anarchist Cookbook" was composed, shedding light on the social and political climate of the time and offering crucial context for understanding the book's creation and enduring legacy.

Key themes in the film

  • The impact of youthful decisions on one's life trajectory
  • The enduring influence of counterculture literature
  • The ethical implications of disseminating potentially harmful information

Film Comparisons

"American Anarchist" can be compared to other documentaries that explore the impact of controversial publications, such as "Banned Books: Stories of the World's Most Dangerous Ideas".

Noteworthy Moments

One of the most poignant moments in "American Anarchist" is when Powell grapples with the knowledge that his book has been linked to various acts of violence, revealing the deep remorse he feels for his youthful actions.


This documentary has sparked a range of reactions, with some viewers lauding its in-depth exploration of a controversial figure, while others criticize its focus on Powell's personal guilt. "A fascinating, troubling confrontation with the ethics of responsibility," notes The Guardian.


"American Anarchist" offers a thought-provoking exploration of the legacy of a controversial book and its author. It's a must-watch for anyone interested in the impact of counterculture movements and the ethical dimensions of freedom of speech.

More film information:


  • IMDB score: 5.9
  • Film festival awards: 3 nominations



  • William Powell: The author of "The Anarchist Cookbook"



  • United States
  • Europe

Key Questions Raised by the Film:

  • How much responsibility does an author bear for how their work is used?
  • What were the influences and motivations behind the creation of "The Anarchist Cookbook"?
  • How has the book’s legacy evolved over time?

I wonder what the film would be in another art form

Image 1
Image 2
Image 3
  1. If this film was a famous book, which one would it be? "Catch-22," for its exploration of moral dilemmas and consequences.
  2. If this film was a famous song, which one would it be? "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan, for its reflection of the counterculture era.
  3. If this film was a famous piece of art, which one would it be? "Guernica" by Picasso, for its depiction of the destructive consequences of conflict.
  4. If this film was a famous celebrity, who would it be? Bob Dylan, for his association with the counterculture movement and his influence on society.
  5. If this film was a color, which one would it be? Black, for its examination of the darker side of human nature and society.
  6. If this film was a music style, which one would it be? Folk, for its roots in social and political commentary.

Watch American Anarchist - Streaming Online | iwonder (Free Trial)
In 1970, 19-year-old William Powell published “Anarchist Cookbook” - a manifesto and bomb-making manual that sold more than 2 million copies. The film explores the book as an inspiration for decades of violent, anti-government attacks and provides Powell with the opportunity to explore his book’s tr…