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Writing the Big Book

This article is written by nationally recognized historian and oft-quoted Alcoholics Anonymous archivist Mitchell K.

The writing of the Big Book took several months to accomplish. Drafts were sent back and forth to and from New York and Akron. After the New York members had reviewed each chapter, Akron members were given a chance to give their input.

Dr. Bob had selected a few members to help in this review process. They sat around his kitchen table and as one of the early members put it, "we red lined and blue lined the whole thing."

Even before the stories were considered, chapter after chapter went through several revisions. The Mid-West group in Akron stressed the spiritual aspects and the New York group wanted to keep it to the physical aspects. Jim B. of New York and later Pennsylvania has been credited with the saying "as we understood Him, after God. There is evidence however, that the phrase, as we understood Him, was being used in some Oxford Group writings.

It is amazing that the Big Book was written after all. Most members had minimal amounts of sobriety, the longest was Bill, with just over 4 years and the average being about 1 to 1 ½ years. Reasonable newcomers to sobriety wrote the book, a prescription for a miracle, the program of recovery for what was to become Alcoholics Anonymous.

Ideas Were Not New

Most, if not all of the ideas included in the Big Book were not new. Much was "borrowed" from the Bible and from Oxford Group and other spiritual books of that era. The idea to split the book into two sections, one a program section, and another, stories relating personal experiences possibly came from the book, Twice Born Men by Harold Begbie. Begbie's book contained a program section relating to the Salvation Army and a section of personal stories.

Other concepts were directly related to the Gospel of Matthew and the General Letter of James. Bill also used the Varieties Of Religious Experience, by William James, For Sinners Only, by A.J. Russell, I Was A Pagan, by V.C. Kitchen, The Common Sense Of Drinking, by Richard R. Peabody and others.

As example we will quote several sources, which may help the reader to understand some of these concepts and give new light as to the possibility of where their use in the Big Book came from.

"What we want to do is get in touch with Him and turn our lives over to Him. 'Where should we go to do it?' At once the lad replied: 'There is only one place - on our knees.' The lad prayed - one of those powerful, simple prayers which are so quickly heard by Him who made the eye and the ear: Oh Lord, manage me, for I cannot manage myself." (For Sinners Only - 1932).


"Peace, direction, power - the fullness of life - await the complete surrender of ourselves to God for His purposes. This is the Great experiment that is waiting to be made - giving God control. How do we begin the experiment? To put it very simply, God cannot take over my life unless I am WILLING. Willingness is not a matter of feeling. It is not a vague desire that God should change me. It is not an impulsive resolve to obey God in future. It is a very practical thing. "If a man is bankrupt and consents to his chief creditor reorganizing and running the business, the first thing he must do is to produce the books - all of them. The difficulty with so many debtors is that they conceal some of their debts, or fail to mention some particularly foolish blunder or some doubtful transaction to which fear prompted them…If, then, I want God to take control of my life, the first thing I must do is to produce the books. I must be willing to look with God at everything…It may be useful at this point if I get a pencil and paper, and make some notes." (When Man Listens - Cecil Rose - 1937).

Initial Surrender

"This initial surrender, if it is thorough and honest, is met at once from God's side. When we hand over, God takes charge, and things begin to happen. A world of strain falls from us. The business of running life is off our hands. We find that we get through more work, because it is ordered better. We meet people we were afraid of, and discover that fear has gone. A habit that always beat us seems to have lost its power. Someone we could not bear appears to us in a new light, and we love them. We come through the ordeal and know that it is not in our own strength." (When Man Listens).

From the chapter, First Steps in The Common Sense Of Drinking: " A man must make up his mind to do everything in his power to cooperate in such work as there is to be done. Halfway measures are of no avail."

Also in First Steps: "Some years ago there lived a man who decided to give up drinking until he could make a million dollars, at which time he intended to drink in moderation. It took him five years - of sobriety - to make the million; then he began his 'moderate' drinking. In two or three years he lost all his money, and in another three he died of alcoholism."

Oxford Group Activities

The Four Practical Spiritual Activities of the Oxford Group (from What Is The Oxford Group):

1. The Sharing of our sins and temptations with another Christian life given to God, and to use Sharing as Witness to help others, still unchanged, to recognize and acknowledge their sins.

2. Surrender of our life, past, present, and future, into God's keeping and direction.

3. Restitution to all whom we have wronged directly or indirectly.

4. Listening to, accepting, relying on God's Guidance and carrying it out in everything we do or say, great or small.

The Washingtonians

Also from What Is The Oxford Group: "You cannot belong to the Oxford Group. It has no membership list, subscriptions, badge, rules, or definite location. It is a name for a group of people who, from every rank, profession, and trade, in many countries, have surrendered their lives to God and who are endeavouring to lead a spiritual quality of life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Oxford Group is not a religion; it has no hierarchy, no temples, no endowments; its workers have no salaries, no plans but God's plan…"

From a book on the Washington Temperance Society (The Washingtonians): "The Washingtonians, formed in the 1840's, required a pledge of total abstinence and attendance at weekly meetings where members would relate their stories of drunkardness and recovery. As a body, they recognized no religion or creed, were politically neutral, and each member was supposed to help alcoholics who were still drinking."

From Courtenay Baylor's book: Remaking A Man - "…in the glorious certainty that he need never fail again - he finds perfect freedom and happiness." (From August to September 1934, Baylor treated Rowland H. in Mass. - Rowland brought the message of the Oxford Group to Ebby T., who in turn brought the message to Bill).

These have been but a few of the similarities between the language in the Big Book and what has been quoted above. There are hundreds of quotes from these early books which can be found, almost verbatim in the Big Book. Bill W. had a lot to choose from when he set forth in his writing.

More will be revealed…

Mitchell K.

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