My wife, God bless her, bought me a beautiful “coffee table” book entitled “The Book That Started It All” which includes the complete marked-up manuscript of the Big Book (the one that went to the printers) as well as a great deal of the history behind it. This is not the multilith copy that many of have. This is what happened to it during the final editing process. I won’t get into a lot of detail here because I am still studying it.
Here’s an image of Chapter Five:
Marked-up page from the printer’s manuscript.
As you can see, the final edit involved a great deal of fine tuning. You can see how the words we now know so well were actually the result of a deliberate and often chaotic process.
I make this point because we tend to think that the Big Book was “written” in the way you write a letter. In fact it is more like a snapshot of the group’s consensus at that time.
I spend a lot of time (too much) commenting in a fundamentalist Christian web site where the Bible is taken literally, and I mean very, very literally. And the one thing I find time and again is that no one who reads the Bible that way has the least interest in discovering how it came into being. Their perception of the book is unable stand up to its historical context because, quite frankly, it doesn’t jibe with their reading.
Guess what? A lot of AAs read the Big Book that way. Since so much of our survival depends on the reliability of that text, we are somewhat loath to see it as something that might have been very different. Here’s an exercise that might put that in perspective.
If you keep a diary or journal or save old letters, try reading something you wrote ten or twenty years ago. Even if it reflected you best thinking at the time, chances are you wouldn’t want to live your life based on that earlier understanding. It’s the same way with our text. If Bill and the original one hundred contributors were still around today, it’s pretty likely that their understanding of the program would be very different from it was when they first tried putting it on paper. Consider that Bill had about four and a half years of sobriety at that point and the rest of the alcoholic contributors had even less.
Does that mean we should disregard the text since it was a product of a particular time and place? Of course not. The truth it contains has stood the test of considerable time, and we would be fools to ignore it. But we mustn’t be drawn into the error of thinking that it’s infallible. In fact, some chapters have not stood up well at all (To Wives, To Employers) because these were not written to show how they had recovered, but rather they were written to instruct others as to how they should deal with alcoholics. I think these chapters are weaker because they got off-topic.
I see the Big Book as a marvel of God’s providence. Those early members wrote an astounding book that ultimately would change the world. But they were not trying to write a book the would endure through decades, they were just trying to solve an immediate problem, namely how to respond to the flood of inquiries coming in. If they had even an inkling of the impact they were going to have I doubt that it would ever have been finished. Good thing for us they didn’t.