Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol

Big Book Reviews

Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol


Vol. 20 (1), March 1959*

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS: The Story of how Many Thousands of Men and Women have Recovered from Alcoholism. New and revised edition. Pp. xxx+575; cloth; $4.50 New York, Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing, Inc., 1955

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS COMES OF AGE: A Brief History of A.A. Pp.xiii+335; cloth, $4. New York, Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing Inc., 1957. Also published as: Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. By a Co-Founder. Pp.xiii=335; cloth; $4. New York; Harper; 1957.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous can be reviewed only by a nonmember of A.A., for any evaluation of the "Bible" of this fellowship by a member must be obvious. But perhaps even a non-A.A. cannot hope to compose an objective evaluation of a work of this sort. To treat it as literature would be pointless. It does not claim to be a moral tract or a scholarly treatise or a scientific exposition. It is, in fact, a book that for many alcoholics has the function of supplementary holy writ.

When I first heard about A.A. more than two decades ago, the original Alcoholics Anonymous book had not yet been published. The story was that a few alcoholics had gotten together and formed a club or society to help one another overcome their problems of drunkenness. Later it became known that they had written a book describing their method, and they believed they had found the golden key, the solution to the problem of alcoholism. It sounded like another crackpot scheme, like so many other "cures" for alcoholism, many with "books" to explain them, it was bound to fail in wide application. Years after, when the movement persisted, it was unavoidable to read the book. It became possible to recognize that here was an exception. Indeed, it was not impossible not to recognize that this book was a phenomenon, that in spite of the disadvantages of collective authorship it spoke from and to the heart and carried something rare in literature: a positive therapeutic potential.

The meaning of "therapeutic potential" as used here is admittedly vague. All one can say is that the book gives the impression of a piece of literature capable of promoting healing in some people who are psychically distressed. It was a work seeming fit to be classified in some such needed category as "bibliotherapeutic." Any wonder at the persistence of A.A. could be laid aside, and it was possible to contemplate that the group which produced this work and lived by its implications could actually help alcoholics.

The book had its faults, being a decidedly human product. And fortunately its composers were sufficiently immodest to take the credit for its contents, though anonymously, without imputing any of it to supernatural inspiration. Thereby they made it possible in the course of time to act upon the obvious fact that portions of it were dated and growing more so, and that other parts could be improved by taking into account the knowledge and experience accumulated in some twenty years. The leaders of A.A. deserve to be congratulated for the courage to secularize the fellowship's bible by judicious revision. They have a better book now. They have done no harm -- that is, they have not taken out any of the original feel of sincerity and capacity to start a process of healing. Instead, by their revision they have insured that it will continue for another period to be as useful as up to now in helping many alcoholics get started on the road to recovery.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous is not just for alcoholics. Every non-alcoholic who wishes to gain insight about alcoholics and alcoholism should read it.

The newer book, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age is a valuable companion volume. Not in the same class and not intended for the same purpose, it will be vastly useful to those who want information on the history and development of the fellowship and as a picture of its organization and principles.


*Posted with permission from Alcohol Research Documentation, Inc., publisher of the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol (now the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs [www.jsad.com])


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