What is “The Big Book”?

Published in 1939 the book “Alcoholics Anonymous”, which is often referred to as the “Big Book”, contains chapters detailing personal stories of individuals who struggled with alcoholism as wells as chapters directed to employers and topics devoted to specific audiences such as the agnostics. Containing well over 400 pages the book got its nickname because its first edition had rather thick pages, making the book even thicker than its content suggested. Written primarily by Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of AA, the text found in Alcoholics Anonymous explains A.A.’s philosophy and methods, the core of which is the now well-known Twelve Steps of recovery. Bill’s own problems with alcoholism are also detailed in his book along with the struggles of his friend and AA co-founder Dr. Bob Smith. The twelve steps are explained using examples and anecdotes and its reasoning is that once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. The book contends that:

  • It is impossible for an alcoholic to quit drinking alone
  • New attitude or set of values is not enough
  • Whosoever is an alcoholic must admit that they cannot help themselves alone
  • Only a “higher power” and the community can help

The main goal of the “Big Book” is to make it possible for readers to find a higher power to help them solve the problem they are facing. It is worth noting that whereas initially, the higher power concept was represented by God of Christianity, over the years, the notion of a higher power became more generalized, and it has changed into a spiritual attitude to allow individuals from all different backgrounds to benefit from the program. For individuals who have never read the “Big Book” and are interested in knowing the contents of the book, a partial table of contents for the fourth edition is presented below:

Preface Foreword to First Edition

Foreword to Second Edition

Foreword to Third Edition

Foreword to Fourth Edition

The Doctor’s Opinion


Bill’s Story

There Is a Solution

More about Alcoholism

We Agnostics

How It Works

Into Action

Working with Others

To Wives

The Family Afterward

To Employers

A Vision for You


How Forty-Two Alcoholics Recovered from Their Malady

PART I – Pioneers of AA

PART II – They Stopped in Time

PART III – They Lost Nearly All


The AA Tradition

Spiritual Experience

The Medical View on AA

The Lasker Award

The Religious View on AA

How to Get in Touch with AA

12 Concepts (Short Form)

Readers interested in reading any one of these chapters to learn more about the Big Book and AA can find an online PDF version of any of these chapters here.

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