Big Book Q&A
To go to another Q&A section, please click on one of the following links:
Roman Numerals Section Personal Stories Appendices
Chapter 1: Bill’s Story
- L18-19: Visiting Winchester Cathedral during the war, Bill’s attention is “caught by a doggerel on an old tombstone” whose last line reads “Whether he dieth by musket/ Or by pot.” What is the meaning of “pot” here? – A container of alcoholic drink
1. L1: Bill recounts he “took a night law course.” What school did he attend?
– Brooklyn Law School
1. L4: “. . . we once worked on a farm . . . “When and where was this? – Bill and
Lois worked at the Goldfoot dairy farm in Scotia, N.Y. (near Schenectady) from
mid-April to mid-May 1925
- L7: “Abruptly in October 1929 hell broke loose on the New Stock Exchange.” What
is the historical reference here? – The stock market crash which ushered in the
- L20: “I telephoned a friend in Montreal.” Who was this? – Richard O. Johnson (“Dick”), of Greenshields & Co., a brokerage firm
- L23-24: “I felt like Napoleon returning to Elba. No St. Helena for me!” What is the import of this historical allusion? – Napoleon returned from his exile in Elba and marched triumphantly on Paris. But following his defeat at Waterloo, he was exiled again, this time to St. Helena, where he died in ignominy. Inebriated with “the old determination to win,” Bill was cocksure he would snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the 1929 stock market crash.
- L27: “We went to live with my wife’s parents.” What are the names of Lois’ parents? – Clark Burnham of PA (lawyer, gynecologist, and Swedenborgian minister), and Matilda Hoyt
- L31-32: “My wife began to work in a department store.” – Where was this? – At Macy’s
- L6-7: Two people were instrumental in Bill’s first hospitalization for alcoholism: his “brother-in-law,” a physician, and Bill’s own mother. What is the latter’s name?
– Emily Griffith Wilson
- What is the name of the physician, and what other role did he play in AA? – Doctor Leonard V. Strong, Jr. He was one of the first members of the AA board of trustees
- L7-8: What is the name of the “nationally-known hospital” Bill was placed in, and where is it located? – Charles B. Towns Hospital in Central Park West, NYC
- L9-11: What did the “bella-donna treatment” consist of? – The use of an extract from an herb also known as “Deadly Nightshade;” referred to also as “purge and puke”
- L11-12: Who was the “kind doctor” that Bill met? – Dr. William Duncan Silkworth, chief physician and psychologist at Towns
- What section of the Big Book did he write? – “The Doctor’s Opinion”
- L13-14: The doctor explained to Bill that “though certainly selfish and foolish,” he “had been seriously ill, bodily and mentally.” These words reflect a new understanding of alcoholism that AA would come to adopt. What understanding is this? – That alcoholism is not a problem of moral failure but a physical and mental disease
- Besides the “physical allergy” and “mental obsession,” AA would come to understand the disease in a third dimension. What is this? – The spiritual
- Cross-reference: “The Doctor’s Opinion,” p. XXV and XXXI, “A Vision for You,” p.162, and “Our Southern Friend,” p.213
1. L14-16: “Then came the insidious insanity of that first drink, and on Armistice Day
1934, I was off again.” Armistice Day signals the end of which war? – WWI
2. What national holiday celebrates that event, and when? – Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11
3. Cross-reference: “Our Southern Friend,” p.210, L29-31
1. L28: Ebby told Bill “how two men had appeared in court, persuading the judge to
suspend his commitment.” Who were these men? – Rowland H. and Cebra G., of
the Oxford Group. Cebra later joined AA, but Rowland never did
2. Cross-reference: See below, Chapter 2: There Is a Solution, P26, L3
1. L25: “. . . what had been so freely given me.” – What passage of the Bible is
alluded to here? Matthew 10:8: The sending out of the Apostles to heal others
as they themselves had been healed: “Freely you have received, freely give”
2. Cross-reference: This is the first of three allusions to this passage in the BB. See
below: “There’s a Solution,” p.19, L18-19, and “A Vision for You,” p.164, L23-24.
There are also 3 allusions in the 12&12: p.10, L28-29; p.133, L1-2; and p.166, L3
1. L31-32: “In one western city and its environs,” says Bill, AA had grown to include
“one thousand of us and our families.” What city is he referring to? – Cleveland,
1. L6-7: Among the “strenuous, comic, and tragic” struggles of early AAs is the story
of “One poor chap” who “committed suicide in my home.” – The name of this
man? – Bill C., a lawyer and gambler who, while a guest of Bill and Lois, was
surreptitiously selling off their clothes to finance his drinking and gambling
2. What home is Bill referring to? – Their apartment at 182 Clinton Street in Brooklyn
3. Asterisk: “In 2001, AA is composed of over 100,000 groups.” How many groups
were there as of the publication of the BB’s 3rd edition in 1983, according to a
corresponding note for that edition? – 50,000 groups
To hear Bill W. tell his story and that of AA, click on Audios & Videos and go to Bill W.’s address to Fourth International AA Convention, 1965, Toronto.
To hear Ebby T.'s story, click on Audios & Videos and go to “Ebby Thatcher, San Jose CA, 3-4-61”
Chapter 2: There Is a Solution
- L1-3: "We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, know thousands of men and women who were once just as hopeless as Bill." Why "thousands," when Foreword to First Edition (p.XV) refers to "one hundred" as the number of AAs when this chapter was written and the BB published? – Probably well-intentioned editorial overzealousness. The integrity of the original text required that the one hundred figure be kept, and a footnote added to indicate this figure had grown to thousands as of the 4th Edition (and the 3rd, where the change was also made to the text with no explanation for the discrepancy). This kind of footnoting was rightly used elsewhere
- L22-23: “We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree . . .” What did this
line inspire? – The most popular of the proposed titles for the BB: “The Way Out”
- L1-2: “After such an approach many take up their beds and walk again.” What is
the Biblical reference here? – The healing of a paralytic in Mark 2:9: “Get up,
take your mat and walk”
- L18-19: “How then shall we present that which has been so freely given us?”
There’s another Biblical allusion here. What is it? – Matthew 10:8: the sending
out of the Apostles to heal others as they themselves had been healed:
“Freely you have received, freely give”
- Cross-reference: This is the second of three allusion to the Matthew passage in
the BB. See Bill’s Story” above, p.14, L25, and “A Vision for You” below, p.164,
L23-23. There are also 3 allusions in the 12&12: p.10, L28-29; p.133, L1-2; and
- L3: “A certain American businessman” who sought help for his alcoholism from Dr. Jung was told his case was hopeless except for a spiritual experience. Who was he? – Rowland H.
- Where did this man find his spiritual experience? – In the Oxford Group in NYC
- He then carried the message to his old drinking buddy from Vermont. Who was this? – Ebby T.
- This second man passed it on to a third Vermont drinking partner and former schoolmate. Who was this third man? – Bill W.
- Did these two men ever join AA? No. Ebby relapsed and never recovered. Rowland died sober
- L10-11: “William James,” author of “Varieties of Religious Experience,” studied and taught at what famous American university? – Harvard
- Considered the Father of American Psychology, James also practiced another discipline from which psychology emerged independent in the early 20th century. What discipline is this? – Philosophy
- William was the brother of a prominent novelist. What is his name? – Henry James
Chapter 3: More about Alcoholism
- L11: “Jim” the car salesman “suddenly” had “the thought” that if he “were to put an ounce of whiskey in [his] milk it couldn’t hurt [him] on a full stomach.” What was his real name? – Ralph F.
- His story was published in the 1st Edition of the BB. What was its title? – “Another Prodigal Story,” now in Experience, Strength, and Hope, p. 108
- In that story he tells of going to the home of an “ex-alcoholic in Brooklyn,” where, to his surprise, “there were 30 more men like” him. Who was this "ex-alcoholic?" – Bill W.
- L14: “Fred” the accountant had it all, but like Jim he also had a sudden “thought” and found out the hard way that he could make “no fight whatever against the first drink.” – What was this early AA’s name? – Harry B.
- His story appeared in the 1st edition of the BB. What was its title? – “A Different Slant,” now in Experience, Strength, and Hope, p. 33
- What is his particular angle in this story? – That a person can have everything from a material standpoint, a great personality, strong will power, no worries or troubles, and still become a hopeless and helpless alcoholic
- L8-14: “Many doctors and psychiatrists,” among whom a “staff member of a world-renowned hospital,” agree with AA that “most alcoholics have to be pretty badly mangled before they really commence to solve their problems.” What was the name of this person, and what was his specialty? – Percy Pollick, psychiatrist
- What was the hospital? – Bellevue, in NYC
Chapter 4: We Agnostics
- L21-22: Who was the “celebrated American statesman” who said “Let’s look at the record?” – Alfred E. Smith, 4-term NYS governor and first Roman Catholic presidential candidate
- L15-23: “We were having trouble with personal relationships . . . we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people. . . .” These “bedevilments” are sometimes juxtaposed to what lines of Step 9? – The Promises, pp.83-84
- L21: “Who are you to say there is no God?” was the “great thought” that “like a thunderbolt” struck this atheist into a spiritual experience. What is the title of his story in the BB? – “Our Southern Friend,” p. 208
- After his experience, this man became a leader of the faction which sought to make the BB an explicitly Christian work. What was his name? – Fitz M.
- His one-time school mate remained a rebel against religion and became a leader of the faction which wanted to make the BB primarily a work of psychology. What was this man’s name? – Jim B.
- What is the name of his story in Part I, Pioneers of AA? – “The Vicious Cycle,” p.219
- Cross-reference to Fitz M.: “The Doctor’s Opinion,” p. XXXI, “The Vicious
Cycle,” p.219, and “Our Southern Friend,” pp. 497-507
Chapter 5: How It Works
- L11-12: What was the original word which “a Power greater than ourselves” replaced in Step 2? – “God”
- L14, 30-31: What is the name of the person who successfully argued for the addition of “as we understood Him” in Steps 3 and 11? – Jim B.
- L21: What expression was deleted from the original Step 7? – “On our knees”
- L1: What was the original phrase which "spiritual awakening" replaced in Step 12? – "Spiritual experience"
- L15: What are the "three pertinent ideas" called in AA parlance? – The ABCs
- L1-12: “When we sincerely took such a position . . . we were reborn. These lines are sometimes referred to as the ________ of Step 3. What is the term? – The promises
- Some AAs object to the phrase “We were reborn” because of its religious associations. What is the better known phrase which apparently is being avoided here? – To be born again
- What is the main idea of the passage? – That we need to undergo a spiritual rebirth or transformation
Chapter 6: Into Action
- L16: The quote “Faith without works is dead” is used to support the idea that AA spirituality is also practical and requires action. What is the source of this quote? – James 2:20 in the Bible
- This was the “favorite quote” of Dr. Bob’s wife. What was her name? – Anne Smith
- According to the Akronites, the name of the company formed to publish the BB was inspired by this quote. What was its name? – “Works Publishing”
- L6: “. . . a story about one of our friends.” Who was this? – Unknown. Story believed to have been passed down from the Oxford Group
- L5-6: “When we retire at night, we constructively review our day.” The suggestion for a nightly inventory is found in Step 11 in the BB. Where is it found in the 12&12? – In Step 10, where we read that before going to sleep “many of us draw up a balance sheet for the day” (p.93, L18)
- Why the difference? – Not clear. According to the wording of the Steps, continuing to take inventory every day is the business of Step 10, prayer and meditation that of Step 11. The 12&12 may have tried to correct an editorial oversight in the BB
- Doesn’t taking such inventory call for prayer and meditation, though? – Yes, it does, and the 12&12 makes that point in Step 11 (p.98, L3-7). That understanding may be the reason the BB editors discussed the practice in that Step
- What can we reasonably conclude from this? – That in conducting our review before we retire at night we are actually practicing principles from both Steps: self-examination from Step 10, and prayer and meditation from Step 11
- What about upon awakening, when the BB calls for prayer and meditation as we consider our plans for the day ahead? – That is the proper business of Step 11, as we seek conscious contact in order to do God’s will. The evening and morning practices follow each other in the BB, and this symmetry may have been another reason why the BB put the nightly inventory under Step 11 rather than 10
Chapter 7: Working with Others
- L4-5: “This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics!” Our “twelfth suggestion” actually includes more than that. What else does it call for? – “To practice these principles in all our affairs”
- Why isn’t this discussed in this chapter of the BB? – Early on, getting and staying sober physically was the sole concern of the fellowship
- In what later book does this part of Step 12 become the main subject of that Step’s discussion? – The 12&12
- Why is it emphasized then? – Emotional sobriety had become an issue as AAs accumulated double-digit dry time and experienced first hand what the BB had suggested earlier, that physical sobriety was not enough
- L18-19: “Don’t start out as an evangelist or reformer.” Who admitted he started
out that way and got nowhere the first six months? – Bill W.
- L10-11: What member “of our Fellowship failed entirely with his first half dozen prospects?” – Bill W.
Chapter 9: The Family Afterward
1. L26-27: “We know of situations in which the alcoholic or his wife have had love
affairs.” Digging up one of such “past misdeeds” contributed to the relapse of
Bill and Dr. Bob’s first prospect. Who was this man? – Eddie R. Newly sober, he
got drunk after his wife disclosed she’d had an affair. Fifteen years later, Eddie
was present at Dr. Bob’s funeral, 12 months sober
- L6-7: “One of our friends is a heavy smoker and coffee drinker.” – Who was this man, and where was he from? – Earl T., from Chicago
- How did he react to his wife making “a burning issue” of this? – He got angry and got drunk.
- Though his reaction was wrong, there’s a lesson for the family to learn here, and it is distilled in “three little mottoes which are apropos.” One is “First Things First.” What is the key virtue behind this? – Wisdom
- A second maxim is “Live and Let Live.” What is the main virtue here? – Tolerance
- A third saying is “Easy Does It.” What virtue is involved? – Moderation
- What is the title of Earl’s story? – “He Sold Himself Short,” Part I, Pioneers of A.A., p.258
- Cross-reference to First Things First: “Alcoholics Anonymous Number Three,” p.190,
L20-22, and “He Sold Himself Short,” p.264
Chapter 10: To Employers
- Who wrote the original draft of this chapter? – Hank P.
- What is the title of his story in the 1st edition of the BB? – “The Unbeliever,” now in Experience, Strength, and Hope, p. 5
- L7-8: A bank executive who “was undoubtedly alcoholic” wasn’t allowed to get help from AA by his boss, who thought if he had the “willpower and guts” he would “make the grade.” After getting drunk again and being fired, this man was contacted by AA, got sober, and was “undoubtedly on the road to recovery.” Who this man? – Clarence S.
- What is the title of his story in the BB? “Home Brewmeister,” published in the first three editions and reprinted in Experience, Strength, and Hope, pp. 291-297
- He led a revolt to separate alcoholics from the group they had originally found sobriety in. What group was this? – The Oxford Group
- After the split, he founded the first group to be called “Alcoholics Anonymous,” in a city not too far from Akron. What city was this? – Cleveland
- L19-20: “. . . a prominent doctor in Chicago . . .” Who was this doctor? – Dan Craske, M.D.
- Cross-reference: “He Sold Himself Short,” p.265, L31
- P149 Last Line: “Today I own a little company,” says the author of “To Employers.” Who is this owner? – Hank P.
- P149-150: “There are two alcoholic salesmen who produce as much as five normal salesmen.” Who are these men? – Bill W. and Jim B.
- Cross-reference: “A Vision for You,” p.59
Chapter 11: A Vision for You
- L19-22: “. . . then would come oblivion and the awful awakening to face the hideous Four Horsemen—Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, Despair.” What is the Biblical reference here? – The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Revelation, 6:1-8
L4-5: “You will learn the full meaning of ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’” What Biblical scripture is this passage based on? – Mark 12:31
L31-32: “Years ago, in 1935, one of our number made a journey to a certain western city.” – Who was this, and what city was it? – Bill W., Akron, Ohio
- L11: “One dismal afternoon he paced a hotel lobby . . .” What hotel was this? – The Mayflower
- L3-4: “His call to the clergyman led him presently to a certain resident of the town . . .” What was the name of the clergyman, and who was the resident? – The Rev. Walter F. Tunks, and Dr. Bob
- L18-19: Seeing that they “must keep spiritually active,” one day Bill W. and Dr. Bob “called up the head nurse of a local hospital.” What was this nurse’s name, and what hospital was it? – Mrs. Hall, the admissions nurse at Akron City Hospital
- L22: “She replied, ‘Yes, we’ve got a corker. He’s just beaten up a couple of nurses.” AA’s first group in Akron dates from the time this man got sober. What was his name? – Bill D., AA Number Three
- Cross-reference: See entry for Foreword to Second Edition, PXVII, in Roman Numerals Section
P158, L28-29: “. . . a fourth turned up. He came through an acquaintance who had heard the good news.” To what is the Biblical allusion here? – To the Gospel, which means literally "good news"
P158, L30-33: AA Number Four was “a devil-may-care young fellow” who didn’t want “to have anything to do with the church.” What was his name? – Ernie G.
P159, L3-4: He agreed “to go to the hospital, where he occupied the room recently vacated by the lawyer.” What was the hospital, and who was the lawyer? – Akron City Hospital, and Bill D.
L5: Who were his “three visitors?” – Bill W., Dr. Bob, and Bill D.
This man eventually became legally related to Dr. Bob. In what way? – He married Dr. Bob’s daughter, Sue, over her father’s objection
What is the title of this man’s story in the first edition of the BB? – “The Seven Month Slip,” reprinted in Experience, Strength, and Hope, p.44
P159, L26-27: “A year and six months later these three had succeeded with seven more.” Who were the seven? – Names, dates, and stories are as follows:
- Hank P., NY, 09/35 (“The Unbeliever,” ES&H p.5)
- Phil S., Akron, 09/35 (1st AA court case)
- Tom L., Akron, 11/35 (“My Wife and I,” ES&H p.48)
- Fitz M., NY, 11/35 (“Our Southern Friend,” 4th Ed. p.208)
- Walter B., Akron, 02/36 (“The Backslider,” ES&H p.35)
- Joel D., Akron, 04/36 (“The European Drinker,” ES&H p.248)
- Myron “Jack” W., NY, 04/36 (“Hindsight,” ES&H p.120)
1. L5-7: “One man and his wife placed their large home at the disposal of this
strangely assorted crowd” of alcoholics and family members. Who was this
couple? – T. Henry and Clarence Williams, of Akron
2. L22-23: After being released from the hospital, many a man “capitulated entirely,
when, later, in an upper room of this house” he heard his own story told by
another alcoholic. What is the biblical allusion here? – The “upper room” in Acts
1. L12-13: “A community thirty miles away has fifteen fellows of Alcoholics
Anonymous.” Where was this? – Cleveland, Ohio
1. L1-2: In one of these eastern cities, “there is a well-known hospital for the
treatment of alcoholic and drug addiction.” What hospital is this? – Charles B.
Towns Hospital, 293 Central Park West, NYC
2. L2-3: “Six years ago, one of our number was a patient there.” Who was this?
– Bill W.
3. L8-9: “Every few days this doctor suggests our approach to one of his patients.”
The name of this doctor? – William Duncan Silkworth, known affectionately
among AAs as “Silky”
4. Cross-reference to Towns Hospital: “The Doctor’s Opinion,” p. XXV and XXXI, “Bill’s
Story,” p.7, and “Our Southern Friend,” p.213
1. L10-14: “We know an AA member who was living in a large community” which
probably had “more alcoholics per square mile than any city in the country.” Who
was this member? – Hank P. What was the community? – Montclair, NJ
2. L15-18: “he got in touch with a prominent psychiatrist” in that community who
agreed to test the AA way with his patients. –Who was this doctor? – Dr. Howard
3. What other role did this doctor play in AA? – He helped to edit the BB
4. What was one of his chief contributions to this work? – Changing the “you”
language to “we”
5. Why was this important? – Among other things, it helped to change the book from
one of injunctions where alcoholics were told what to do to one of narrated
experience where alcoholics shared what they had done and how it had
worked. (See review of The Book That Started It All in this website.)
6. L25-26: “Arrangements were also made with the chief psychiatrist of a large
public hospital” to try the AA solution on some of its inmates. Who was this
psychiatrist, and which was the hospital? – Dr. Russel E. Blaisdell, of Rockland
State Hospital in upstate NY. This doctor attended the Rockefeller Dinner in 1940.
1. L23-24: “Give freely of what you find . . .” These words are inspired by a Bible
passage. Which one is it? – Matthew 10:8: The sending out of the Apostles to
heal others as they themselves had been healed: “Freely you have received,
2. Cross-reference: This is the third allusion to this passage in the BB. See above:
“There’s a Solution,” p.19, L18-19, and “Bill’s Story,” p.14, L25. There are also 3
allusions in the 12&12: p.10, L28-29; p.133, L1-2; and p.166, L3
3. The passage expresses two principles which might be said to sum up all the other
principles in the 12 Steps. What principles are these? Love and service