A Book Review

A Book Review of the 4th edition of the Alcoholics Anonymous
 (the Big Book)

All textbooks instruct, some entertain, and a few--and only a very few--change lives.

Alcoholics Anonymous, affectionately called the Big Book by AA members is one of those rare textbooks that does all three. It teaches, inspires and promotes life-altering changes. It also resists qualitative judgments: no sensible reviewer would pass judgment on this book any more than on the Bible or the Quran.

The first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous was published in 1939, a mere four years after the first meeting of Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio, which gave birth to AA. Traditionally the authorship of the first edition is credited to 100 of the earliest members of AA, but the actual writing was done, for the most part, by Bill Wilson. In the first 164 pages, the early members outline the spiritual program of the Twelve Steps with other chapters devoted to the families of alcoholics and their employers. These first 164 pages have remained unaltered through all of the succeeding editions of the Big Book.

Old timers in AA, many with 30 and 40 years of sobriety, are no less astonished than newcomers to the program that no one involved in the compiling of Alcoholics Anonymous had more than four or five years of sobriety. AA's insight into the nature of alcoholism as a disease was particularly farsighted, as the idea generally was not accepted by the medical profession in the 1930s. Even more radical was the conviction of AA members that only a spiritual awakening, a dependence on a higher power, could lead to sustained sobriety and that each alcoholic might choose a higher power of his or her own liking.

The changes in this new fourth edition come in the second major portion of the Big Book, a collection of stories of individual members of AA. In 1939 most AA members were male, white and Protestant, but as the program grew, so did the variety of its members. With each new edition of the Big Book, stories have been added and older ones subtracted. Stories of African-Americans, Native Americans, Catholics and women appeared in the in the second and third editions. In this new edition there is a second story of Native Americans and new stories of Jewish, gay and teenage members.

The Florida Catholic newspaper of June 6, 2002


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