Writing the Big Book: The Creation of A.A.
Rare books dealer Schaberg (The Nietzsche Canon
) provides an admirably exhaustive, albeit intimidatingly lengthy, look at the writing of Alcoholic Anonymous’s foundational 1939 text—known colloquially as “The Big Book,” and in full as Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism
. Through years of archival research, Schaberg uncovered a “tremendous amount” of first-hand documentation related to the book’s composition. He demonstrates a detective’s skill in using this evidence to examine accounts by major A.A. figures and identify contradictions, often traceable to what he calls the “mythmaking” tendencies of A.A.’s charismatic and garrulous founder Bill Wilson, the Big Book’s primary author. Among other things, Schaberg shows that the creation of A.A.’s most famous tenet, the 12 Steps, was likely not the “sudden, inspired event [Wilson] so frequently reported,” but a “much more... deliberate affair.” Elsewhere, Schaberg demonstrates equal skill as a literary archeologist in excavating past drafts of the book, finding traces of a planned but unwritten chapter about the “potential alcoholic” still evident in the finished text, and showing how a much-debated internal A.A. decision—to use the word “God,” but not more creed-specific language—shaped the Steps. The main caveat for general readers will be this book’s monumental scale; nonetheless, Schaberg’s work is a landmark study. (Oct.)