What is the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous?


The organisation Alcoholics Anonymous takes its name from the book of the same name. Understanding the reason the book was written, how it is structured and what its real purpose is, is crucial to anyone looking to get and stay sober using the 12 step program outlined in the big book.

The book was published as a body of experience, so that anyone living anywhere in the world could get sober on their own, without having to have contact with the individuals alive at the time, living in two specific areas of the United States.

Purpose of the big book

The book was published in 1939 in the United States, collectively by a group of approximately 100 people, who had had some success in staying sober for several years before that. The author of the book was one of the co-founders of AA, Bill Wilson, who was instrumental in publishing the book and helping to get it distributed worldwide afterwards.

When the book was published, these 100 people had a significant amount of experience of doing what they believed had helped them get sober, and stay sober. It should be remembered, that at this time there was no cure or solution for  anyone’s alcoholism.

The medical profession had pretty much given up on people who have a drink problem, and if they did not die first, they were eventually locked up in some type of asylum until they did die. It is important to understand this, in order to appreciate both the enormity of the problem, and the significance of the solution that was contained in the book.

Why the book was written

At the time the book was written, most of the people who were sober lived either in Akron Ohio, or New York city. They realised that their ability to share their experience of getting sober was extremely limited, and they realised the need to find a better way to let other people know that there was a way of getting sober.

This is not really a history lesson about the big book, but it is important to understand why it was written. A book could disseminate the experience of these hundred members of AA, put it into print and make it widely available to anyone who was interested.

Over time this happened, and there are many AA books, including AA comes of age which write about this in much more detail.

The Big Book – Body of Experience

Perhaps the most crucial element of the book is that it was written as a body of experience that anyone could use in any way they wanted.

The structure of the book was that it contained a significant information about the 12 step program that AA has become famous for, and also a number of individual stories about people’s struggle with their alcoholism, so that new members could identify with them.

Over time, people have developed many new and different ways of interpreting the meaning and purpose of the big book, some helpful, and some fairly dysfunctional. It is important to remember that the reason the book was written still as true today, 2022, as it was in 1939.

It gives anyone whether they are sober or not the freedom to look at the experience of these early members of AA, and interpret and use that experience in any way they want to or not.

Why is it called the Big Book

When the book was being published, the funding needed was largely raised through the members of AA themselves. In order to make them think that they were getting real value for money, the book was published on the thickest paper available for their budget, hence being described from then onwards as the big book