Alcoholics Anonymous: After Many Years, a Rebirth of the 1st Edition “Big Book”
© 2014 Anonymous. All rights reserved
We receive hundreds and hundreds of phone calls, emails, and social media messages asking how to start a 12 Step study group, what its boundaries can be, and the subjects to cover. And now, here’s a brief statement of a prime approach for those of any, all, or no faith. The approach has been long in coming and long overdue. It coincides with the sudden explosion of publication of interest in the rebirth of the “circus bound” (cover) of the Alcoholics Anonymous First Edition.
Here’s a sketch of what happened: In 1939, the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous was published. It contained hundreds of alterations of the previous manuscripts. The ultimate sources of its Twelve Steps languished for years before the simple statement by Bill W. that the Steps came primarily from “Dr. Silkworth, Professor William James, and Reverend Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr.” By contrast, Dr. Bob repeatedly made it clear that he did not write the Twelve Steps, nor did he have anything to do with the writing of them.
The basic text—the new version of the program the Twelve Steps—contained two main parts: (1) The chapters--largely if not exclusively written by Bill Wilson. (2) The personal stories written in part by Dr. Bob’s Akron A.A. crew and in lesser part by AAs on the East Coast.
But that’s when the Big Book became a rarity. Only a few thousand copies had been published. Before long, members and others began paying hundreds, even thousands of dollars, for copies of these. And then the real changes began: (1) Changes in the chapter language were made. (2) Piece by piece the personal stories were removed as subsequent editions were published. (3) Finally, an Akron man published a small number of replicas of the 1st edition. But many objected to their use or mention in A.A. because they were not “Conference Approved.” (4) Then the publisher of a number of A.A. materials and study books published a great many more replica copies. (5) Meanwhile, A.A. World Services dithered among paper backs, paper backs with no stories, and almost all the original stories missing.
Then came a surprising change. A long-standing publisher—Dover Publications—decided an inexpensive paper back of the First Edition was needed. But it believed there should be an explanation of the original, personal stories. And it contacted Bonnie B., President of Wilson House and the Griffith Library in East Dorset, Vermont. Bonnie recommended they contact me [Dick B.] and arrange to have me write an introduction. This arrangement was made. And I set to work on the content and differences among the stories and also the content and differences between Bill’s chapters and the content of the personal stories—a content long on references to God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible as well as other religious literature early AAs studied.
This new first edition book was Alcoholics Anonymous “The Big Book”: The Original 1939 Edition, Bill W. With a New Introduction by Dick B. (Mineola, NY, Dover Publications, Inc., 1911). My explanatory Introduction was 23 pages in length. And we began receiving all kinds of inquiries about how the Dover Publications book could be obtained, what it contained, and how groups could begin studying the First Edition with profit. The Dover publication soon became widely available and was snapped up.
On April 10, 2014, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc. published a facsimile edition of the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous “to commemorate the 75th anniversary of its original publication.”
At long last, Alcoholics Anonymous itself published this facsimile. It included the personal stories which had been eliminated piece by piece through the years, and it stated: “This is A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature.”
And we began receiving a multitude of questions from AAs and others as to whether now, after all these years, they could have study groups—A.A. groups—which used, mentioned, discussed, and studied the First Edition in order to learn what the earliest AAs said about their original program and could freely speak of their reliance on God, on the teachings of Jesus Christ, and the Bible. And the answer, of course, was, “Yes!”
Our next article will tell you our suggestions as to how to do this effectively and the materials that will aid in understanding and study.