Big Book Alcoholics Anonymous Compilation

The Year


March or April

Big Book Alcoholics Anonymous Compilation

 The Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous compilation, is probably the most important single factor not only in the recovery of the individual alcoholic who finds sobriety in A.A., but also in the growth of the Fellowship throughout the world. The Big Book is also one of the nonfiction hardcover best sellers of all time.

     And yet, it was almost not written.

     In 1937, Bill and Bob met in Akron for the first time since Bill had returned from their first meeting in 1935. As they tallied the results of over two years work, they counted altogether some 40 sober alcoholics in New York and Akron, and "saw that wholesale recovery was possible." But they agreed that they needed a book "to explain to alcoholics our methods and results"and, incidentally, to prevent distortion of their program which up to that time had been transmitted by word-of-mouth.
 Forthwith, they met with 18 members of the Akron group and proposed the book. The idea met substantial opposition. Bill argued that, in addition to the reasons above, the book could be sent or carried to the alcoholic in different places; it could help publicize the movement among nonalcoholic; and it might even make money which could be used to establish an office, handle inquiries, etc. But many of those present were against any publicity, turned thumbs down on printed material, and argued that the apostles hadn't needed books. But Bill and Dr. Bob persisted and "by the barest majority" of a single vote, the Akronites agreed that they should proceed.
The Big Book Gets Started

     Bill writes a book meant to aid the alcoholic who is unable to attend meetings or find fellow alcoholics with whom to talk. At the Newark office, he dictates his handwritten notes to Ruth Hock (below) as she types, reviewing and revising drafts all the while. These chapters are mimeographed and mailed to potential financial backers, as well as to Eugene Exman, the religion editor at Harper & Brothers publishers.

Ruth Hock, A.A.'s 1st secretary

     Bill began work on the first draft in March or April of 1938 of what is now the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous. He had been sober about three and a half years. Dr. Bob was sober a few months less than three years and the other 100 early members who contributed in one way or another to the writing of the book had been off the sauce for periods ranging from a couple of years to a couple of months. By summer, he had drafted the first two chapters. The text was reviewed, argued over and revised by the alcoholics in Akron and New York. It was also mimeographed and used for a fund-raising operation which "fizzled" out. At this stage Harper and Brothers offered to publish the work. Although Bill was at first elated, he developed grave misgivings about the book's being owned by an outside publisher. However, he kept his doubts to himself until he had reported the Harper offer to the trustees, who were in "unanimously in favor of the deal." Bill then expressed his misgivings. But the Board was not impressed and "no conclusion was reached."

     At this time, Bill was associated with Hank P., the first alcoholic in the New York group to stay sober even for a little while, other than Bill. Hank, a "terrific power driver," urged Bill to ignore the trustees and the Foundation and take matters into their joint hands. They would form a stock company, sell shares to the New York members and publish the book themselves. With little persuasion, Bill agreed to charge ahead with the plan.

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