Efforts are being made by AA members in the U.S. to distribute books to
those alcoholics who cannot afford to buy a big book — for example those
in the correctional facilities. Here is a paperback book containing a 1st edi-
tion reprint including the story section. This book is distributed entirely for
free and dedicated to newcomers who seek relief from alcoholism.
The whole text is in the public domain. AA can claim no proprietary right
to the recovery program, for our principles, as all spiritual truths, are re-
garded as available to all mankind1 .
The 1st edition was published from 1939 to 1955. During this time, the
recovery rates were highest. Should a 4th edition better reflect the fellow-ship
of today, or should the fellowship of today better reflect our good old
book? Of alcoholics who really tried the program as outlined in the 1st edi-
tion, 50% got sober immediately and remained that way; more than 25%
sobered up after some relapses2 . We’d love to repeat those marvelous re-
The stories of the 1st edition tell us how the founders of our Fellow-
ship applied spiritual principles to their lives and escaped alcoholic hell; all
the early Akron veterans—a dozen and a half of them—whose stories are
the backbone of the 1st edition and who, together with Dr. Bob, had created
the first AA group in the world3 . The Cleveland pioneers had proved three
essential things: the value of personal sponsorship; the worth of the A.A.
book in indoctrinating newcomers, and finally the tremendous fact that A.A.,
when the word really got around, could now soundly grow to great size4 .
To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main
purpose of this book. It is given to you by members of AA groups. We are
not allied with any particular faith or organization, nor do we oppose any-one.
We simply wish to be helpful to those who are afflicted5 .
This book was unselfishly written and edited by a team of about 40 people
60 years ago. It should carry the message to new areas and keep it undiluted
and unchanged. We will briefly outline the chain of events and historical
facts that made us come to believe that we would pass on this low-cost book
at no charge. We do so, because we are not an organization in the conven-
tional sense of the word. There are no fees or dues whatsoever6 .
In a speech delivered in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1954, Bill Wilson reported:
So, on this late Fall afternoon in 1937, Smithy and I were talking to-
gether in his living room, Anne sitting there when we began to count
noses. How many people had stayed dry; in Akron, in New York, maybe
a few in Cleveland? How many had stayed dry and for how long?
And when we added up the total, it sure was a handful of, I don’t know,
35, 40 maybe. But enough time had elapsed on enough really fatal cases
of alcoholism, so that we grasped the importance of these small statis-
Bob and I saw for the first time that this thing was going to succeed.
That God in His providence and mercy had thrown a new light into the
dark caves where we and our kind had been and were still dwelling by
the millions. I never can forget the elation and ecstasy that seized us
both. And then we sat happily talking and reflecting. We reflected that
well, a couple of score of drunks were sober but this had taken three long
years. There had been an immense amount of failure and a long time
had been taken just to sober up the handful. How could this handful carry
its message to all those who still didn’t know? Not all the drunks in the
world could come to Akron or to New York. How could we transmit our
message to them, and by what means?
... That evening Bob and I told them that we were within sight of suc-
cess and that we thought this thing might go on and on and on, that a
new light indeed was shining in our dark world. But how could this light
be a reflection and transmitted without being distorted and garbled? And
at this point, they turned the meeting over to me, and being a salesman,
I set right to work on the drunk tanks and subsidies for the missionaries,
I was pretty poor then. And we touched on the book. The group con-
science consisted of 18 men good and true and you could see right away
that these 18 good and true men were damned skeptical about it all.
Almost with one voice, they chorused "Let’s keep it simple. This is going
to bring money into this thing. Think, this is going to create a professional
class. We’ll all be ruined."
This early opinion during later years crystallized in the conviction that
nothing could so surely destroy our spirituality as futile disputes over prop-
erty, money, and authority. We should remain forever non-professional. To
carry the message face to face or in print is never to be paid for7 .
In a letter of April 27th, 1944, Clarence S., founder of the first AA meeting
in Cleveland (The Home Brewmeister) wrote:
It was my understanding at the time the book was published that should
there be any profits accrue from the sale of the book, after the stockhold-
ers were paid and the plates etc. cleared, that money was to go to the
Foundation and we hoped to get out a dollar copy of the book for wide
distribution ... in order that no one should have a financial interest in the
book and any profits could be used for the furtherance of the "Labor of
Mr. Leonard V. Harrison, Chairman of the Alcoholic Foundation, answered
on official letterhead July 7th, 1944, and on page 4 wrote in response to Clarence:
Mr. Wilson tells me that later on, about 1941, he did talk to you about
the desirability of a $1.00 book. He said he thought such a book might be
printed from the old plates when the debts were paid and a new edition
came out ...
In the past, A.A. groups contributed enough to cover about two-thirds of
the service expense. The remainder was covered by publishing income, which
was in excess of that required for publishing expense. So, in 1986, the Gen-
eral Service Board asked for a special effort to inform the Fellowship of the
dangers inherent in this situation; particularly that a substantial fraction of
the publishing income now comes from outside sources—in violation of our
7th tradition. The effort was begun to inform the groups about this growing
problem. The challenge was to make G.S.O.’s service work self-supporting
through contributions of the membership and to sell literature at cost to eve-
To make our service work independent from literature profits is manda-
Tory for ConceptVII9 and ConceptX 10 . If our service work would rely on
income from literature sales rather than solely on our group’s voluntary con-
tributions, any manger of an AA corporation could say "I don’t care what
AA groups want. Forget about their two cents, we can do as we please since
we get enough money from our literature sales." Our traditional "power of
the A.A. purse"9 would become a bad joke 10 .
Some of us said to ourselves: "Let it begin with us!" We can start and do
that just for today. For we are now on a different basis — the basis of trust-
ing and relying upon God. We trust infinite God rather than our finite selves.
We are in the world to play a role He assigns11 .
So several years ago a few recovered alcoholics were sitting together and
felt deeply touched by these circumstances. They committed themselves to
spread the word and take action. And many alcoholics from America and
Europe combined their efforts, offered voluntary work and threw their "two
cents" into the hat—to express their gratitude for the recovery and freedom
from bondage they found for themselves. Let’s hear their report:
In 1997 this process prepaid 75,000 mini editions of the 11 chapters plus
the Foreword and The Doctors Opinion plus a two-page U.S.-wide
Intergroup phone directory. These booklets were badly needed in the Cali-
Fornia correctional system and mostly distributed to inmates by local AA
members and by chaplains inside the walls. Considerable numbers also
went to correctional facility committees in the Midwest and to the East
Coast. One member reported, that inmates were now surprisingly allowed
by authorities to keep these little books all the time and take them to their
cells, providing the possibility to read them now and then. Strange but true,
the usual regular editions were prohibited and could only be read during
meetings or at the library. The corrections officers were afraid that some
prisoners could misuse the hard-backed books as weapons.
Also 5000 Spanish translations of the 1st edition (without the story sec-
tion) went into the California facilities and another 20,000 went to Mexico.
Russian alcoholics, having practically no financial resources of their own
in those currently rough times, gratefully received 50,000 mini editions in
a new and modern language translation, which is—by the way—more
accurate and thus closer to our original than the previous one, which
omitted whole paragraphs of the English text. Many of our fellows in Swe-
den, especially newcomers, could not afford to buy a book for US$44.00,
nor could alcoholics in Finland, where books sold for US$49.30 per copy
at that time. With the help of a German group both countries got a car-
load of 5000 mini editions each—for free. Meanwhile the textbooks be-
came a powerful tool for 12th step work throughout the countryside and
in prisons and treatment centers as well. 5000 Hebrew mini editions were
The German Fellowship was presented with close to 30,000 free Ger-
man mini editions. This became necessary, because three different "offi-
cial" translations had been published in that country since 1962—all rather
more than less stray from our English text. The deviation of the latest
edition (1983-1996) was so serious, that A.A.W.S. General Manager
George D. said, when he was made aware of that situation by a delega-
tion of German members, that came to N.Y. in 1996: "Neither you nor
anyone else may change anything in the wording of the Steps and Tradi-
tions. Never! Neither may any word be dropped. It has to be translated as
closely as possible to the original." And he added: "You have to work this
out within your German service structure! Don’t tell me anything but get
in contact with them." German G.S.O. has meanwhile improved the qual-
ity of their German translation and has offered both hardcover and pocket
editions at a 20% discount since then.
Most of us feel we need look no further for Utopia. As you see, improve-
ments have become possible. We follow the path suggested by our 1986
General Service Conference and carry the message, prepaid by 7th tradition
contributions, in a strictly non-professional way. Each day some member’s
simple talk at our kitchen table multiplies itself in a widening circle of peace
on earth and good will to men12 .
Parallel to these astonishing events, ordinary group members, along with
past and present trusted servants from throughout the U.S. and some other
countries including GSRs, DCMs, conference delegates, AA archivists, com-
mittee chairmen and even one past A.A. General Service Board trustee, at-tempted
to coordinate those wide-spread activities somewhat, puting them
on more shoulders, on a solid service structure base and went ahead.
We have now accumulated some 7th tradition money, that makes it possi-
ble to provide a full 1st edition reprint—including all of the stories. Pretty
good stuff! We hope it will serve many newcomers and help them acquire
Inquiries from individuals, groups, big book study meetings, Intergroups,
C.S.O.s or committees are welcome. We will be happy to help as much as
All books availabe for free from AA BBSG, Washingtonville
To contact us and to get books write to AA Big Book Study Group:
BBSG, P.O. Box 31, Washingtonville, NY 10992-0031
Back to Basics, P. O. Box 6656, Thousand Oaks, CA 91359-6656
gso.org will be happy to forward your e-mail through firstname.lastname@example.org
This reprint is endorsed and approved by:
1. Past Northeast Region Class B Trustee, Maine;
2. AA archivist, New York;
3. Past Delegate Panel 43, Massachusetts;
4. Past Delegate Panel 41, Area 65,
5. GSR, Past AA magazine editor, Germany;
6. Past Class B Trustee and Past AA magazine controller, Mexico;
7. Past Alternate Delegate, Panel 43, Massachusetts,
8. group secretary, South Germany;
9. AA member, Los Angeles, sober in AA since July 24, 1962;
10.Alt. Sec’y, Area 30, Massachusetts;
11.Past Delegate Panel 44 Area 56 Southwest Ohio;
12.AA member, Florida;
13.AA member, date of sobriety 4/11/87, Maine;
14.Past DCMC, District 02, California Northern Coastal Area, USA;
15.Past Area Registration Chair, Area 05, Thousand Oaks, California;
16.GSR, Simi Valley, California;
17.GSR, Berwick, Maine, continuially sober in AA since 1983;
who else ... Would you join us?
Names omitted here for anonymity on public level.
1 See also: AA Service Manual pg.S100, Bylaws of the General Service
2 See also: FOREWORD TO 2nd EDITION, pg. XX
3 See also: AA Comes of Age, pg.7
4 See also: AA Comes of Age, pg.22
5 See also: FOREWORD TO FIRST EDITION
6 See also: FOREWORD TO FIRST EDITION.188
7See also: Traditions 7 and 8, original long form.189
8See also: AA Service Manual, pg. S130, How G.S.O. Is Supported
9 See also: AA Service Manual, pg. S102 and Concept VII pg 29 "The Charter
and Bylaws of the General Service Board are legal instruments, empower-ing
the trustees to manage and conduct world service affairs. The Confer-ence
Charter is not a legal document; it relies upon tradition and the A.A.
purse for final effectiveness.
10 See also: AA Service Manual, Concept X, pg. 44 "For example, if the
groups are dissatisfied with the Conference, they can elect better Delegates
or withhold funds. If the Delegates must, they can censure or reorganize
the Trustees. The Trustees can do the same with the service corporations.
If a corporation does not approve of the operations of its executives or
staff, any or all of them can be fired."
11 See also: Chapter Five of this book, pg.80 in this edition, pg.68 in the 2nd
and 3rd edition.190
12 See also: End of Chapter One, pg. 26 in this edition, pg. 16 in the 2nd and