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The Book That Started It All: The Original Working Manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous

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  • Posted June 12, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A Tale of Two Cities: Akron, NY, and “The Book That Starte

    A Tale of Two Cities: Akron, NY, and “The Book That Started It All”

    Bill W. wrote most of the BB between May 1938 and January of 1939, discussing drafts of the work in progress at the Brooklyn meeting and sending them to Dr. Bob for review by the Akron group. Akron’s feedback was positive. But in NY, a heated debate broke out. According to Bill, three points of view emerged: “conservatives” who argued for an explicitly Christian text, “liberals” who didn’t object to using “God” but wanted a spiritual and not a religious document, and the “radical left-wing” who wanted a work of psychology.

    Unable to reach agreement, the three factions eventually named Bill the final arbiter of the book’s content. An initial draft was completed by February, and 400 mimeograph copies were sent out for comment. As these were returned, it became evident that the book had been well received in all quarters.

    Bill had recognized the dilemma from the start. “If you labeled it a strictly Christian book,” many alcoholics would stay away, while if “we make a psychological job of it nobody would get well.” Experience had shown that the strictly religious approach had very limited success and the strictly psychological approach practically none.

    In the end, the book presented a clearly spiritual course, rejecting practically all of the edits that would exclude God while at the same time reforming the religious language that would exclude many alcoholics and divert all from their primary purpose of staying sober and helping others to achieve sobriety.

    As we know, “God” was replaced with a “Power greater than ourselves” in Step 2, and modified with “as we understood Him” in Steps 3 and 11. These changes are not as big as they might seem, for the book already included similar language.

    A bigger change resulted from the decision to make the book descriptive rather than prescriptive. This involved a shift from future to past tense; from predicting outcomes to narrating events; from prescribing what you must or should do to describing what we did; from directing to suggesting; from pointing out weakness to admitting to it, talking from the heart more than from the head, sharing experience rather than trying to teach, preach, or instruct.

    Underlying this approach was a principle that would give the book its markedly spiritual and practical character. This was “attraction rather than promotion,” a principle that would distinguish the book and thenceforth AA not only from the injunctive approach of religion, but from the prescriptive approach of psychology as well. With it, other principles would come into play, so that we find a certain restraint in the tone of the book, a certain modesty of expression, a certain tolerance and even generosity toward divergent views, a humble recognition of the limits to knowledge and understanding, particularly when it comes to spiritual things and to God.

    As Bill concluded, the changes still left God in the Steps, but “now expressed in terms that anybody—anybody at all—could accept and try.” That there is a “who” to recovery, “One who has all the power,” the BB leaves no doubt: “That One is God.” But there is also a “what” and a “how” to recovery: the spiritual principles embedded in the Steps, which the BB makes clear proceed from and are practiced through that one Power. The question is how far we are willing to go to understand these principles, and to practice them in all our affairs.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Amazing Book! Simply Amazing.

    For anyone who has ever struggled with alcoholism or loved someone who has, this book is a must read. What make it much more powerful is that it shows the original intent of the author. I'd also recommend that you buy "When God Stopped Keeping Score." It's an intimate look at the power of God and forgiveness. Given the chance, it will change your life.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2010

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    Posted November 10, 2010

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    Posted October 18, 2010

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