AA Big Book Myths Tidbits and Trivia

If you are familiar with The Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous then read on … I think you will enjoy the following nuggets of information.

Let’s start with the name “Big Book”. It is actually a nickname. It was used to describe the book (it the first printing) because of the thickness of the paper used. The name “Big Book” is referenced only once in the “forward to the second edition” but it acknowledged only as a nick name.

In April 1939, 4,730 copies of the 1st edition of “Alcoholics Anonymous” were published. The price was $3.50. It was a very expensive book for its time. The equivalent to $58 a copy today.

There is a myth that there are no “musts” in AA, only “suggestions”. Glance at pages 14, 44, 73, 74, 79 and 85. These pages are littered with “musts” Actually there are 123 incidences of the word “must” in total.

Another myth is that the first 164 pages have not been changed. The wording of the twelfth step was changed in 1941. The term “spiritual experience” was changed to “spiritual awakening.
In 1947, in the 11th printing of the 1st edition, the term “ex-alcoholic” was replaced by the terms “ex-problem drinker” or “non-drinker”.

Dr. Bob’s wife Anne was asked to write the chapter “portraying the wife of an alcoholic” but she declined. Bill W. ended up writing the chapter “To Wife’s” himself. I read “this was much to the dismay of his wife Lois”. I would like to know more about how that went down.

Hank P. whose story is “The Unbeliever” is credited with writing chapter 10 “To Employers”. Hank P. also helped with publishing the Big Book. Unfortunately he returned to drinking in April 1940.

Speaking of people in the book. Here is additional information (adapted from Barefoot’s World):

Page 26, 1st paragraph — “The certain American businessman”
This is Rowland Hazard of the Oxford Group. He never joined AA but never drank again and died at his desk at work, sober.

Page 35 — 2nd paragraph — “Jim the Car Salesman”
He is Ralph F. author of “Another Prodigal Story” in the First Edition Big Book.

Page 39 — 2nd paragraph — “Fred the Accountant”
Fred is actually Harry B. author of the first edition big book story “A Different Slant”. Harry later sued AA for money he loaned to print the big book.

Page 50 — 3rd paragraph – “American Statesman”
Alfred E. Smith, four time governor of New York and was unsuccessfully the first Roman Catholic presidential candidate.

Page 156-157 — Both pages — “The man on the bed”
Bill D. from Kenmore, Ohio, Sobriety Date: June 26, 1935. AA member number three, the “Man On The Bed.” Bill was a lawyer and the first to stay sober in AA without a slip. You often see a picture of the “Man On The Bed” in AA fellowship halls.

Page 158 — Bottom of page — “Devil may care young chap”
Ernie G. was 30 years old. He later married Dr. Bob’s daughter Sue against Bob’s wishes. Sue liked Ernie, but he later turned out to be a less than likeable man. Ernie’s story, “The Seven Month Slip” was in the First Edition of the Big Book
In Akron, there was another Ernie G. who got sober later and who was a very good AA member and much was written about him. Don’t get these two Ernie G’s mixed up in your history.

Odds and Ends

Here is a movie that you might not know about..“When Love is not Enough”, the Lois W. story, aired April 25, 2010 at 9:00 PM PST. From the author who brought us “My Name is Bill W.” It starred Wynona Rider and Barry Pepper.
Copies available from Hallmark. (April 2010). I can’t believe I have not seen this!

Here is a link to Bill W.’s obituary in the newspaper

I am having a hard time accepting these bits of information:

In 1960, the quotation was added to the “Spiritual Experience” appendix. The attribution of the quote is given to Herbert Spencer. I read that this is an error. It should be attributed to William Paley.

I often hear at an AA meetings that the wording of the Chapter 5, How It Works, sentence  “Rarely have we seen a person fail …” was changed from “Never have we seen a person fail …”  Barefoot’s World says this is not true and shows a copy of the original manuscript to prove it.

More will be revealed as I’m constantly learning.

19 thoughts on “AA Big Book Myths Tidbits and Trivia

  1. I reviewed your Trivia information. You show two entries for changes in the first 164 pages. I know where the spiritual awakening is to be found, but where are the terms changed relative to “ex-alcoholic”?
    Thanks….God Bless

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In there is a solution it reads ex problem drinker instead of ex alcoholic. There may be more of that change but I dont have time to look it up. There is web page on the interenet that shows most the changes made to the first 179 pages

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m enjoying reading your blog. A year or so ago, we got a group at someone’s home and watched “My Name is Bill W.” followed by “When Love is Not Enough.” It’s really interesting the different perspectives, how much Bill missed while lost in his alcoholism (like Lois’ miscarriage). Watching them back-to-back really highlighted that twisted thinking active alcoholism brings.


  3. Hi ty for this history lesson. Im sure you get know it all’s questioning some of your information. I don’t want to be one of those. I want to llovingly suggest we take a look at Hank… Regarding Hank, I do see in some places it shows he was drinking in the spring of 1940 but I see in Lois diary for Sept 6th 1939 she writes that Kathleen P reported to her on Sept 5th that Hank was drinking. That seems pretty definitive.
    And something not so definitive but does suggest we really don’t know the whole story who authored To Wives. I see online a mention in the Akron Archives that Marie B. (An Alcoholics Wife) might have written the first draft and was edited by Bill. It seems if that is in the archives it should be brought out and made public. It doesn’t matter who wrote it, but it would be nice get as much accurate info as possible so we just know… We who love and read AA history just want to know!
    Thanks so much if you read this,
    Eugene Lane
    Redondo Beach Ca
    sober 12/2/86

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for your post! I wanted to say: Did you know that it was actually Bill W. that wrote the chapter “To Wives?” I read that Lois wanted to write it but that Bill turned her down and wrote that chapter from his perspective on what his wife went through. Pretty interesting, huh?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. my question is , hope i get a reply.. in the man in the bed picture.. the red book, what book is that being held? im suspecting it is iether some oxford group littarature, a bible or the book of solomon,, are you in factual know?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. There is an interesting book out called Writing the Big Book by William H Schaberg. He had done vast amounts of research for this book and note where he collected his information from. A great resource for history buffs.

    Liked by 1 person

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