The book Alcoholics Anonymous, commonly referred to as the big book of AA, was first published in 1939. It established the organisation of AA by the same name, and as AA grew in size, the book became the mainstay of the organisation.
Since then, three other editions have been published, with a 4th edition being published in 2001
First Edition of the AA Big Book
The book quickly became the main reference point within AA for information and details about the 12-step recovery program and the broader experience of AA members of how to stay sober.
The 1939 edition was the first edition, and was deliberately divided into two specific sections. The first section is often referred to as the first 164 pages of the big book.
It includes the personal story of one of the co-founders, Bill Wilson, the rest is a general collection of the experience of the early members of AA, that spells out the 12-step recovery program, that they used to get and stay sober.
The second section of the book opens with a story by the other co-founder of AA, Dr Bob, followed by a number of other stories of early AA members, where they talk openly about their life and their drinking and how they became sober.
The intent behind having two sections was to give people information about the 12-step program, and personal stories that they could use to relate to and identify with other peoples drinking.
4th Edition of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
Since the book was written and published in 1939, there have been three further editions, approximately 25 years apart. Each edition has kept the concept of the two sections as used in the first edition, for the same reasons.
What has changed in each edition has been the personal stories. The first story by co-founder Dr Bob, has always been kept, but the following stories have been updated with some being replaced by other people’s stories.
The intent has always been to try and have stories that more accurately reflected the current membership of AA at the time, which will have changed over the intervening 25 year period.
The stories that were replaced have been kept and catalogued, and published as a separate book called Experience, Strength and Hope, largely out of historical interest, which is available to buy from local intergroup offices and GSO.
Foreign language editions of the fourth edition of the Big Book
The book Alcoholics Anonymous has been translated into numerous different languages, so that people around the world can access its information, and use it to get and stay sober.
The original book contained personal stories that were inevitably about Americans, given that membership of a time was centred around two cities in America, Akron and New York.
As the book has been translated into different languages, other countries have been encouraged to include personal stories that reflected their own country and culture, instead of the stories used in the North American edition.
Whilst this is understandable in one way, it is a shame that the personal stories in all editions are not the same throughout the world, as this would give a degree of consistency and unity that would be hugely valuable to AA in all countries.