Preface to the Study Guide


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Preface to the Study Guide
There is evidence that alcoholism has been around since the beginning of recorded history. Noah gave good signs of possibly having a problem with alcohol after the Great Flood. He reportedly drank of the wine and passed out naked in his tent. But only twice in the history of mankind has there been a group of serious drinkers who figured a way to stay physically sober.

The first of these were the Washingtonians. They stayed away from drink by having meetings and telling their stories. They had no program to live by nor did they have a set of guidelines for the conduct of their Fellowship. As the result of these deficiencies, they lasted only a very short time. The life span of that Fellowship was approximately ten years -- from 1840 to somewhere around 1850.

The other group of alcoholics, successful in sobriety, is known as Alcoholics Anonymous. By God’s grace and mercy, the Founders of this Fellowship were given a very practical Program of action which assures permanent emotional sobriety. They also learned, through success and failure, how to preserve the Fellowship which is vital to those suffering alcoholics not yet reached.

Our Founders learned from the mistakes of the Washingtonians and the alcoholics who had died, ignoring the mistakes of others who had failed. This book, Alcoholics Anonymous, was written to provide each of us with an opportunity to learn how to live and enjoy life and how we may protect the future of this Fellowship.

In this Text Book for permanent sobriety, we find the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which assure a method of escaping death by drinking or permanent insanity for chronic alcoholics. We also are given the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, which assure the unity, survival and growth of the Fellowship, so necessary for most alcoholics seeking a solution for their problems.

Foreword to the Study Guide

The purpose of this Study Guide is to enable the student to understand the information the authors of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, intended to impart to each of us based on their experience and knowledge of alcoholism and their Program of Recovery. It can be used by an individual or by a group. This Guide is intended to examine the content of virtually every sentence in the basic text of the Big Book.

The beginning of a paragraph is identified by the letter (P) preceding the number of the first question of that paragraph. Some sentences contain more than one important piece of information that we will want to consider. To indicate these sentences, the questions will be indented with the number of the question followed by a lower case letter (i.e. 8-a, 8-b, 8-c, etc.). The number of the question is repeated to indicate that we are still in that one sentence.

The study begins with the “dust jacket.” The “dust jacket” is reversible. On one side is the title of the book and the other side is blank so persons wishing to maintain their anonymity can simply turn it over and re-cover the book in “plain white paper.”

The titled side also tells us what the book Alcoholics Anonymous is to members of the Alcoholics Anonymous Fellowship. In the lower right-hand corner it reads, “This is the Third Edition of the Big Book, the Basic Text for Alcoholics Anonymous.” A similar statement is made in the middle of the Fourth Edition dust cover. The “Basic Text” for any subject contains the experience and knowledge of the authors so that the student can establish a foundation of understanding in and of the subject. The authors of this Basic Text Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, present their experience and knowledge of the Problem - Alcoholism, the Solution - God, as we understand Him, and the Practical Program of Action they followed that will produce recovery from alcoholism (The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous). They did such a perfect job that members of the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous have been unable to improve the effectiveness of this book in the Second and Third Editions -- a remarkable truth considering that the first principal author had only four years of sobriety. The second principal author had three and one-half years. The rest of the authors had even less.

This book also contains the Twelve Traditions so very vital to the survival of the Fellowship. So long as our individual groups stay within the boundaries of the Twelve Traditions, the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous will flourish.

Since the students and practitioners of this Text Book rarely, if ever, return to drinking, its true authorship must have been derived from a Higher Power. It has proved to provide a Solution to all our problems. This fact is demonstrated by the large number of Fellowships that have borrowed and adapted our Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions to find a solution to their particular problems which have nothing to do with drinking.

It isn’t enough to just have faith. We must also do good works to prove we have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good works is no faith at all; it is dead and useless. This Book provides clear-cut directions on what we must do to have that faith. It does not fail.

Since Bill W. was so precise in the use of the English language in his authorship of this Book, it is a good idea to keep a dictionary nearby. For example, the real problem of the chronic alcoholic is the “insidious insanity” that leads to the first drink. According to Webster, circa 1936:

insidious - awaiting a chance to ensnare.

ensnare - to lure, entice or capture.

insanity - state of being insane, unsoundness of mind, derangement of mind esp. without recognition of one’s illness.

Preface to the Fourth Edition

(Page xi)

1. Which Edition is this one?

This is the fourth edition of the book “Alcoholics Anonymous.”
2-a. When was it first published?

The first edition appeared in April 1939,

2-b. How many copies went into circulation between the First and Second Editions?

and in the following sixteen years, more than 300,000 copies went into circulation.

3-a. When was the Second Edition published?

The second edition, published in 1955,

3-b. How many copies of the Second Edition were sold or distributed?

reached a total of more than 1,150,500 copies.

4-a. When was the Third Edition published?

The third edition, which came off the press in 1976,

4-b. How many copies went were put into circulation?

Achieved a circulation of 11,698,000.


5-a. What has this book become?

Because this book has become the basic text for our Society
5-b. Why?

and has helped such large numbers of alcoholic men and women to recover,

5-c. Has there been a desire to make any changes in it?

there exists strong sentiment against any radical changes being made in it.

6. Have there been any significant changes in the first 164 pages?

Therefore, the first portion of this volume, describing the A.A. recovery program, has been left untouched in the course of revisions made for the second, third, and fourth editions.

7-a. What has been kept totally intact?

The section called “The Doctor’s Opinion” has been left intact, Just as it was originally written in 1939

7-b. Dr. Silkworth was what to our society?

by the late Dr. William D. Silkworth, our Society’s great medical benefactor.


8. What three things were added to the Second Edition?

The second edition added the appendices, the Twelve Traditions, and the directions for getting in touch with A.A.
9-a. What was the chief change to the Second Edition?

But the chief change was in the section of personal stories,

9-b. Why were these changes made?

which was expanded to reflect the Fellowship’s growth.

10. What else is said about the Second Edition? (rest of paragraph)

“Bill’s Story,” “Doctor Bob’s Nightmare,” and one other personal history from the first edition were retained intact; new versions of two stories were written, with new titles; thirty completely new stories were added and the story section was divided into three parts, under the same headings that are used now.

(Page xii)

1. What part of the Big Book was left unchanged in the Third Edition?

In the third edition, Part I (“Pioneers of A.A.”) was left unchanged.
2. What changes were made? (2 sentences)

Nine of the stories in Part II (“They Stopped in Time” were carried over from the second edition; eight new stories were added. In Part III (“They Lost Nearly All”), eight stories were retained; five new ones were added.


3-a. What has been added to the Fourth Edition?

This fourth edition includes the Twelve Concepts for World Service

3-b. What has been revised?

And revises the three sections of personal stories as follows.

4. How have the “Story Sections” been revised? (rest of paragraph)

One new story has been added to Part I, and tow that originally appeared in Part III have been repositioned there; six stories have been deleted. Six of the stories in Part II have been carried over, eleven new ones have been added, and eleven taken out. Part III now includes twelve news stories; eight were removed in addition to the two that were transferred to Part I).


5-a. What is the nickname for the Basic Text, Alcoholics Anonymous?

All changes made over the years in the Big Book (A.A. members’ fond nickname for this volume)
5-b. Why have changes been made in the Big Book?

have had the same purpose; to represent the current membership of Alcoholics Anonymous more accurately,

5-c. And, hopefully, to accomplish what?

and thereby to reach more alcoholics.

6. What is our hope for a person with a drinking problem as he reads this book?

If you have a drinking problem, we hope that you may pause in reading one of the forty-two personal stories and think: “Yes, that happened to me”; or, more important, “Yes, I’ve felt like that”; or, most important, “Yes, I believe this program can work for me too.”

Foreword to the First Edition

(Page xiii)


1-a. Who authored this book?

We, OF Alcoholics Anonymous,
1-b. How many were there?

are more than one hundred men and women

1-c. What had happened to them?

who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.

2. Why did they go to the trouble to write this book?

To show other alcoholics PRECISELY HOW WE HAVE RECOVERED is the main purpose of this book.

3. If we have a drinking problem and study this book, what else will we need?

For them, we hope these pages will prove so convincing that no further authentication will be necessary.

Comment: The only thing we might want other than this Basic Text would be a dictionary published as close to 1939 as possible. Bill was very precise in the use of the English Language as it was used in the New England area at that time. The definition of some of the words he used might give a better understanding of his writing.
4. What do we think can be accomplished by reading this book?

We think this account of our experiences will help everyone to better understand the alcoholic.

5. What is it that many do not comprehend?

Many do not comprehend that the alcoholic is a very sick person.

6. Do we believe this book is for alcoholics only?

And besides, we are sure that our way of living has its advantages for all.

Comment: It is very doubtful that Bill could have conceived that the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions would be adopted and adapted by over 200 Anonymous Fellowships, including SAA, in the years following the publication of this Text book.

7. Why was it important for the authors of this book to remain anonymous?

It is important that we remain anonymous because we are too few, at present to handle the overwhelming number of personal appeals which may result from this publication.
8. Were the authors of this book “bums”?

Being mostly business or professional folk, we could not well carry on our occupations in such an event.

Comment: Bill, Dr. Bob, Hank P. and the others anticipated they would be overwhelmed with inquiries once the Big Book hit the book stores. Of course, that didn’t happen.

9. What is our alcoholic work?

We would like it understood that our alcoholic work is an avocation.


10-a. What are we told to do if we write or speak publicly?

When writing or speaking publicly about alcoholism, we urge each of our Fellowship to omit his personal name,
10-b. We are told to identify ourselves as what?

designating himself instead as “a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.”


11. Are we serious about anonymity at the level of the press?

Very earnestly we ask the press also, to observe this request, for otherwise we shall be greatly handicapped.

12. Are we an organization?

We are not an organization in the conventional sense of the word.

Note: Twelve Step Fellowships in the traditional sense are “upside-down” organizations. Refer to the Twelve Concepts of Service of Alcoholics Anonymous.
(Page xiv)
1. How much does it cost for membership in A.A.?

There are no fees or dues whatsoever.

2. What is the only requirement for membership?

The only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop drinking.

Comment: The word “honest” is missing in Tradition Three. We would have to suspect that word was omitted because by the time most alcoholics and sex addicts are ready to come to a Twelve Step Fellowship for help, they no longer have even a nodding acquaintance with honesty.
3-a. With whom are we affiliated?

We are not allied with any particular faith, sect or denomination,

3-b. Who or what are we against?

nor do we oppose anyone.

4. What is our single simple wish?

We simply wish to be helpful to those who are afflicted.


5. For those who read this book, who do we want to hear from?

We shall be interested to hear from those who are getting results from this book, particularly from those who have commenced work with other alcoholics.
6. What is it we really want to do?

We should like to be helpful to such cases.


7. Who else would we like to hear from?

Inquiry by scientific, medical, and religious societies will be welcomed.

Foreword to the Second Edition

(pp xv - xxi)

The “Foreword to Second Edition” provides a brief history of the first 20 years of Alcoholics Anonymous after its creation 1935. In this Foreword, Bill W. tells how, through Dr. Silkworth and the Oxford Group, he found a solution to his alcoholism. He tells how he was able to stay sober by trying to help other alcoholics. He recounts how his business venture in Akron failed and why he so desperately felt the need to find another alcoholic to talk with. This need led to his meeting with Dr. Bob, who had tried to find a way to stay sober but had failed completely. Their meeting led to the two of them believing they could stay sober if they worked together. From their combined efforts to protect their sobriety, by searching out and going to suffering alcoholics, came a fellowship of sober alcoholics from whom came the lifesaving Program of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is the content of this book.

They tell how they found the acceptance and endorsement of some of the leading citizens of our country. We learn of some of the favorable publicity this little group of sober alcoholics received from some very influential news sources which led to a rapid growth of the Fellowship.

We are given a glance at the recognition of some of the problems our Founders faced and how they successfully developed a set of guidelines for our conduct within our respective groups and within the Fellowship itself -- the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous.

We learn how successful those seeking help were when the only guide we had was this Big Book, the Basic Text for our Fellowship. It is very obvious that we are not doing nearly as well today because of the emphasis on “meetings” rather than the “Program”- (These are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery).

It concludes by telling us of the hope behind the writing of this Book.

(Page xv)


1. From the First Edition to the publication of this Edition, what had taken place?

Since the original Foreword to this book was written in 1939, a wholesale miracle has taken place.
2. What was the hope of the earliest printing?

Our earliest printing voiced the hope “that every alcoholic who journeys will find the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous at his destination.

3. Had this hope become a reality by 1955?

Already, “continues the early text ‘twos and threes and fives of us have sprung up in other countries.’”


4. How many years passed before the Second Edition was published?

Sixteen years have elapsed between our first printing of this book and the presentation in 1955 of our second edition

Historical Note: Up until 1953, this was A.A.s only book which discussed the Twelve Steps in detail. This is important to remember when we consider the success rates discussed on page xx. In 1953 A.A. published the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. The 12 & 12 does not contain instructions for working the Twelve Steps and the Steps portion of the book is based on one man's experience working the Steps as instructed by the Big Book for 15 years. Whereas the Big Book contains instructions for the Steps and was authored by the entire fellowship at the time of its publication.
5-a. During that period of time, how many A.A. groups had formed?

In that brief space, Alcoholics Anonymous has mushroomed into nearly 6,000 groups

5-b. How many alcoholics had recovered?

whose membership is far above 150,000 recovered alcoholics.

6. How far had A.A. spread during these sixteen years? (4 sentences)

Groups are to be found in each of the United States and all the provinces of Canada. A.A. has flourishing communities in the British Isles, the Scandinavian countries, South Africa, South America, Mexico, Alaska, Australia and Hawaii. All told, promising beginnings have just been made in some 50 foreign countries and U.S. possessions. Some are just now taking shape in Asia.

7. What did many of A.A.s friends see ahead for our Fellowship?

Many of our friends encourage us by saying that this is but a beginning, only an augury of a much larger future ahead.


8-a. Where was the first group formed?

The spark that was to flare into the first A.A. group was struck at Akron, Ohio
8-b. When was the first group formed?

in June 1935

8-c. Who were the principals of the first group?

during a talk between a New York stockbroker and an Akron physician.

Historic Note: The stockbroker was Bill W. and the physician was Dr. Bob S.

9-a. How long had Bill W. been recovered?

Six months earlier
9-b. How had Bill W. been relieved of his drinking problem?

the broker had been relieved of his drink obsession by a sudden spiritual experience

9-c. What had preceded Bill’s recovery?

following a meeting with an alcoholic friend

9-d. With whom had the friend (Ebby T.) been in contact?

who had been in contact with the Oxford Groups of that day.

(Page xvi)

1-a. Who else had been very helpful to the Bill’s recovery?

He had also been greatly helped by the late Dr. William D. Silkworth

1-b. What was Dr. Silkworth’s specialty?

a New York specialist in alcoholism

1-c. How do we, as a Fellowship, feel about Dr. Silkworth?

who is now accounted no less than a medical saint by A.A. members

1-d. Where do we find his story?

and whose story of the early days of our Society appears in the next pages.

2. What vital piece of information did Bill W. learn from the doctor?

From this doctor, the broker had learned the grave nature of alcoholism.

3-a. Could Bill accept the tenets of the Oxford Groups?

Though he could not accept all the tenets of the Oxford Groups

3-b. What tenets could he accept?

he was convinced of the need for moral inventory, confession of personality defects, restitution to those harmed, helpfulness to others, and the necessity of belief in and dependence upon God.

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