Writing the Big Book: The Creation of A.A.

Writing the Big Book: The Creation of A.A.

by William H. Schaberg
Writing the Big Book: The Creation of A.A.

Writing the Big Book: The Creation of A.A.

by William H. Schaberg


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Now in paperback—the definitive history of how the"Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous was written, edited, and finally brought to press.

It has been over forty years since Ernie Kurtz wrote Not-God, the last truly professional treatment of the history of Alcoholics Anonymous. While many books dealing with A.A. history have been written since then, Writing the Big Book is the first to bring that same kind of exhaustive research, scholarly discipline, and informed insight to the subject.

Schaberg’s book—telling a detailed story that begins in October of 1937 (when a book was first proposed) and ends in April of 1939 (when Alcoholics Anonymous was published)—is based primarily on the wealth of 1930s documents currently preserved in several A.A. archives. Woven together into an exciting narrative, these real-time documents provide an almost week-by-week account of how the book was slowly put together. It is a story that unfolds with many unexpected turns and more than a few revealing departures from the hallowed stories so widely circulated by A.A. members in the past.

Writing the Big Book presents a robust and vivid picture of how Alcoholics Anonymous operated and grew in its earliest days along with a vast amount of previously unreported details about the cast of colorful characters who made that group so successful. Most surprising is the emergence of Bill Wilson’s right-hand man, Hank Parkhurst, as the unsung hero in this story. Without Hank there would have been no book, but his unfortunate slip back into drinking just months after it was published resulted in him being almost completely written out of the supposedly factual stories told later.

Fast paced, engaging, and contrary, Writing the Big Book will decisively change whatever you think you know about early A.A. history and the ways in which this book—so central to the worldwide growth of this important twentieth century movement of spiritual recovery—actually came into being.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781949481556
Publisher: Central Recovery Press, LLC
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Pages: 712
Sales rank: 77,556
Product dimensions: 9.40(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

William H. Schaberg is a scholar and rare book dealer based in Fairfield, Connecticut. His interest in the history of ideas led him to amass a large collection of first edition philosophy texts and inspired his first scholarly work, The Nietzsche Canon: A Publication History and Bibliography (University of Chicago Press, 1995). Schaberg has delivered lectures on Nietzsche, William James, and other philosophers with his mentor King Dykeman at his alma mater, Fairfield University. He has served in the United States Air Force and ran a family printing business for over thirty years before retiring to commit more energy to his bookselling business, Athena Rare Books. Schaberg’s scholarly investigation into the authorship of Alcoholics Anonymous was an eleven-year project that, like his Nietzsche book, began with bibliographical confusion over the text’s prepublication history and culminated in an unprecedented chronology of the “Big Book” origins.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Author's Note xi

Chapter 1 Challenging the Creation Myths November 1934 to October 1937 1

Chapter 2 The Akron Vote October 13, 1937 13

Chapter 3 Meeting Mr. Richardson Late October to November 1937 29

Chapter 4 The Rockefeller Dinner December 1937 51

Chapter 5 Dr. Bob's Hospital January to February 1938 67

Chapter 6 The Alcoholic Fund March to April 1938 89

Chapter 7 Bill's Stories Late May 1938 107

Chapter 8 "There Is a Solution" Early June 1938 129

Chapter 9 Hank's Ideas Early June 1938 157

Chapter 10 The Outline Late June 1938 177

Chapter 11 Chasing Testimonials July 1938 201

Chapter 12 The Alcoholic Foundation August 1938 229

Chapter 13 This Week Magazine September to October 1938 251

Chapter 14 "More About Alcoholism" and "We Agnostics" September 1938 271

Chapter 15 The One Hundred Men Corporation October 1938 289

Chapter 16 Meanwhile, Out in Akron… October to December 1938 315

Chapter 17 "Working with Others" October to November 1938 333

Chapter 18 "To Wives" October to November 1938 347

Chapter 19 "The Family Afterward" and the Authorship Question October to November 1938 363

Chapter 20 Hank Parkhurst: Managing Editor and "To Employers" November 1938 383

Chapter 21 "The Q&A Chapter" November 1938 403

Chapter 22 "A Vision for You" November 1938 423

Chapter 23 Writing the Twelve Steps December 1938 439

Chapter 24 Editing Bill's Steps December 1938 459

Chapter 25 "How It Works" and "Into Action" December 1938 471

Chapter 26 The Book Goes to the Editor and Is Approved by the Board January 1939 491

Chapter 27 Editing the Manuscript January to March 1939 503

Chapter 28 The Multilith Printing February 1939 527

Chapter 29 Promoting and Editing the Multilith Copy March 1939 547

Chapter 30 Publication Day Late March to April 1939 573

Chapter 31 Aftermath April 1939 587

Bibliography 607

Endnotes 613

Index 681

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

If you have read my husband’s book, Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous, you may think as I did, that you have a good understanding of that history. And you would be wrong. Writing the Big Book zeroes in on the first five years in a way that no other history of A.A. has captured. And these years were critical. Like a good suspense novel, this book captures the day to day struggles these few intrepid men encountered over those years – in the heart of the great depression…. How does a bunch of homeless alcoholics start a worldwide movement? Schaberg’s book tells us how they did it, tiny step by tiny step.Linda Farris Kurtz, Professor Emerita, Eastern Michigan University, Author of Recovery Groups

Writing the Big Book is the most important work on the history of A.A. since Ernie Kurtz’s Not-God. Finally, we have a resource that draws upon decades of recent research to separate fact from myth regarding the origin of Alcoholics Anonymous.William L. White, author of Slaying the Dragon

This is a book that A.A. historians will want to read and reference from now on . . . the product of incredibly detailed research in the archives at the central A.A. office in New York City and at Stepping Stones in Bedford Hills, New York, along with Lois Wilson’s diary, and a host of other primary sources.Glenn F. Chesnut, Emeritus Professor of History, Indiana University South Bend

Writing the Big Book details the chapter-by-chapter authoring of Alcoholics Anonymous and provides a revealing anthology of its primary contributors . . . .The revelations about Hank Parkhurst’s role in particular cast a welcome and inclusive light on his critical importance, as he is shown to be a true unsung hero.Arthur S., A.A. historian from of Arlington, TX

Schaberg’s in-depth research and masterful presentation of previously unpublished facts about A.A.’s early history makes for an explosive package . . . Far from presenting a dry historical record, Writing the Big Book is lively, fascinating, compelling, and insightful—more like a thriller than a documentary.Jay Stinnett, A.A. historian

Writing the Big Book is an invaluable contribution to Alcoholics Anonymous and its membership. Relying on outstanding research and thoroughness, Schaberg shapes a coherent story out of a vast trove of archival material—and reveals that the Big Book, far from being simply, divinely inspired, was the work of perfectly flawed human beings, living and striving under great stress and difficulty.Kevin Hanlon, co-creator of the documentary Bill W.

Writing the Big Book surprises in how well it defines and demonstrates the condition of alcoholism, while so clearly rendering portraits of its interesting cast of characters. I came away with a much better understanding of what some of my dearest friends and family struggle with as alcoholics, along with a deep appreciation for the work that went into the creation of A.A.David Stickney, contributing editor of The Nietzsche Canon

For many in recovery, Bill Wilson is a Moses freeing them from the bondage of addiction. As a result, a variety of myths have evolved around him, some encouraged by his own efforts to tell the story and to sell the spiritual program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill Schaberg does a great service to the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous with his exhaustive examination of archival documents, separating myth from fact. The result is a clearer picture of the beginnings of A.A. and the development of the Big Book, along with a rich and compelling portrait of Bill W. Less myth produces a much better story. This volume is a must read for any interested in the history of A.A.The Very Rev. Ward B. Ewing, D.D., Trustee and past Chair of the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous, Retired Dean and President of The General Theological Seminary, New York, NY

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