This month’s Box 459 includes a new 32-page booklet, “A Brief History of the Big Book.”
The following is an excerpt from the book. Please see explanation from GSO at the end.
In May 1938, when Bill W. began work on the first draft of what is now the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, in New York City and Newark, New Jersey, 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 sober for periods ranging from a couple of years to a couple of months.
The early members realized the book would need a “story” section. “We would have to produce evidence in the form of living proof, written testimonials of our membership itself. It was felt also that the story section could identify us with the distant reader in a way that the text itself might not.”
Dr. Bob and the members in Akron, Ohio led this effort. One member of the Akron Group was a former Newspaperman with two years of sobriety, named Jim. He and Dr. Bob “went after all the Akronites who had substantial sobriety records for testimonial material. In most cases Jim interviewed the prospects and wrote their stories for them. Dr. Bob wrote his own.” By January, the Akron Group had come up with 18 stories.
In New York, where there was no one with writing expertise, they decided that each member with substantial sobriety would write his own story. When Bill and a fellow member turned to edit these “amateur attempts,” there were objections. “Who were we, said the writers, to edit their stories? That was a good question, but still we did edit them. The cries of the anguished edited taletellers finally subsided and the story section of the book was complete in the latter part of January 1939. So, at last, was the text.”
The book still lacked a title. “The Akron and New York groups had been voting for months on possible titles. This had become an after-the-meeting form of amusement and interest. The title ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ had appeared very early in the discussion…. We do not know who first used these words. After we New Yorkers had left the Oxford Groups in 1937 we often described ourselves as a ‘nameless bunch of alcoholics.’ From this phrase it was only a step to the idea of ‘Alcoholics Anonymous.’”
More than 100 titles were considered, but in the end, it came down to “Alcoholics Anonymous” or “The Way Out,” and when the two groups voted, “The Way Out” received a slight majority. At this point, one of the A.A.s visited the Library of Congress to research the number of books titled “The Way Out” versus those called “Alcoholics Anonymous.” There were 12 with the former title, none with the latter, and since nobody wanted to make the book the thirteenth “Way Out,” the problem was solved. “That is how we got the title for our book, and that is how our society got its name.”
So, this somewhat shaky, often fearful group of men and women somehow brought to publication, on April 10, 1939, the book Alcoholics Anonymous.
This book became a blueprint for recovery from alcoholism that has been followed successfully for nearly 80 years—and something of a publishing phenomenon. The Big Book has been translated into 68 languages and is read by millions of people in approximately 170 countries around the world. Approximately 35 million copies of the first four editions of the Big Book (in English) have been distributed. It sells about one million copies per year, worldwide.
An Email from GSO Staff for this region explains:
“I am a G.S.O. staff member and my duties include serving as a correspondent for inquiries from the Pacific region. Thank you for writing, I am glad to be in touch. The booklet, “A Brief History of the Big Book” (item no. F-166) was printed to be sent out on a complimentary basis with the Fall 2014 issue of Box 4-5-9. It will be posted on the www.aa.org website, as is other free literature, available for viewing online. At this time, it is not for sale and is not listed in our literature catalog.”