Best AA Books

Except for The Book That Started It All, the books listed here are all “official” AA books, that is, they are approved by AA’s General Service Conference. They are published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (AAWS).

The Book That Started It  All

Hardcover, 248 pages, Hazelden Publishing, 2010

For those of us who love the Big Book and are intimately familiar with it, the Original Manuscript is a treasure-trove of information and insight. The best way to read it is in tandem with our Big Book, annotating our copy for the changes made or rejected in the Original. Doing this will change the way we look at the book that saved our lives, giving us an inside view of the process through which it became, not a book of religion, pop psychology, or self-help, but something different and unique: a manual of practical spirituality that works in real life. See “A Tale of Two Cities: Akron, NY, and ‘The Book That Started It All,’ in Ray’s Book Reviews.

Alcoholics Anonymous 75th Anniversary Edition

Hardcover, 400 pages, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2014 (Available only at

This is a facsimile of the first printing of the first edition of the Big Book, published in 1939. As with the original, the pages are unusually thick. The idea was to make the book look “big” and therefore worth the price ($3.50)—hence the name by which it became popularly known. The book is fragile and needs to be treated as a collector’s item and handled with care, otherwise it will fall apart. A close comparison with the current 4th Edition will reveal many interesting differences, the biggest involving the Personal Stories Section. Reading these stories, we get an idea of what early AA was like and how much it has changed.

Alcoholics Anonymous 4th Edition

Hardcover, 576 pages, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001
For the recovering alcoholic, the Big Book is not optional reading. It is the quintessential “must read.” The reason is simple: that’s where the program of recovery is laid out. Many of us have learned the hard way that trying to work the program without the book that explains the program is a recipe for failure. Its first 164 pages need to be studied and thoroughly mastered if we are to work the AA program and not somebody else’s program. Regular attendance at Big Book study meetings can help. So can listening to Big Book Study tapes, though we should keep in mind that these represent interpretations of the book. The “Joe & Charlie” tapes, which discuss the basics of the program, are the most widely used. Using, the best index tool available, is also helpful. “Big Book Q&A,” on this site, answers some of the questions that may come up in our reading.

Experience, Strength & Hope

Hardcover, 435 pages, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2003

Experience, Strength and Hope is a collection of the personal stories from the first three editions of the Big Book left out of subsequent editions. It is divided in three parts. Part One presents 23 stories from the 1st Edition left out of the 2nd; Part Two seven stories from the 2nd left out of the 3rd; and Part Three 26 stories from the 3rd left out of the current, 4th Edition, which reflects the dawn of the 21st century. The changes reflect the changing composition of the fellowship. By making available these stories, ES&H enables us to get an idea of the scope of that change. It is a necessary companion to a serious study of the Big Book. For Q&A, see Personal Stories: ES&H

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

Hardcover, 192 pages, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1952

Twelve Steps and 12 Traditions is the second basic text of AA’s recovery program. It complements and expands on the Big Book, written when Bill and Dr. Bob had only about 4 years sober. The 12&12 reflects an additional 12 years of experience. This led not only to the development of the 12 Traditions, but to the re-examination of each of the 12 Steps. The Big Book had focused primarily on physical sobriety. Further experience showed that wasn’t enough. The 12&12 focuses on continuing growth. It deepens our understanding of each Step, shows us how their principles can be practiced in all our affairs, and extends the goal of recovery beyond physical to emotional sobriety. The 12&12 is the “more” in, an excellent study tool which can help the reader look up all entries on a given topic (e.g., acceptance) in this text as in the Big Book. 

As Bill Sees It

Hardcover, 345 pages, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1967

As Bill Sees It is a collection of brief excerpts taken mostly from the Big Book, the 12&12, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, Bill’s letters, and articles he published in the Grapevine. Excerpts are organized by topic: Acceptance, Guilt, Humility, Surrender, Tolerance, and so on. The book is a tool for individual meditation and group discussion. We can zero in on a particular issue we are having trouble with (e.g., fear or anger) or a particular principle we want to reflect on (e.g., gratitude or willingness). We can also date the pages starting with January 1 on page 1 and use it as a book of daily meditations. At meetings, a volunteer usually chooses a reading and that becomes the topic for discussion.

Daily Reflections

Paperback, 384 pages, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1990

Daily Reflections is AA’s “official” book of meditation, “A book of reflections by A.A. members for A.A. members,” as its subtitle indicates. Each dated page starts with a quote from the Big Book, the 12&12, As Bill Sees It, A.A. Comes of Age, Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, and other approved works. This is followed by a reflection by an AA member. Generally, each month's quotes and reflections revolve around the Step and Tradition which coincide numerically with that month (e.g., April is Step and Tradition 4). The book can also be used for concentrated reflection on a given topic (e.g., humility), using the table of contents. It is also used for topic meetings, with the discussion based on the day's reading.

Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age

Hardcover, 333 pages, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957

Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age is chronologically the third major work published by the Fellowship (following the Big Book and the 12&12). Its first history book, it revolves around the 20th Anniversary Convention in St. Louis, where AA “came of age” and was handed over to its members by Bill W. The book is divided in three parts. The first part consists of an overview of AA history given by Bill at the Convention. The second part includes three talks given by Bill on the three Legacies of AA: Recovery, Unity, and Service. And the third part is made up of addresses by friends of AA in medicine, religion, and other fields. A chart of historic dates makes for a handy reference tool.

Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers

Hardcover, 373 pages, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. 1980

Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers is a biography of the co-founder of AA, together with personal recollections of the early days of AA in the Midwest. We AAs typically know more about Bill W. and the New York side of AA than we do about Dr. Bob and its Akron side. This much needed biography helps to correct that imbalance. It shows the genesis and evolution of AA in the Midwest and the central role Dr. Bob and the “Oldtimers” played in the development of the fellowship and the program. The personal, informal, and anecdotal nature of the narrative is in keeping with the personality and the character of the old doctor. A descriptive table of contents and ample illustrations add to the book’s value.  

Pass It On

Hardcover, 429 pages, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984 

‘Pass It On’ is an apt title for this, the official biography of Bill W. For, from the beginning of his sobriety, Bill was driven by the goal of passing on what had been freely given him—passed on, in fact, by another drunk from Vermont, his and Dr. Bob's home state. For the AA member, this is the most reliable of Bill’s biographies, carefully documented and written from a decidedly AA perspective. It gives us the full story of the man and of the fellowship he helped to found, complete with footnotes and sources, and using plain and unpretentious language in the AA tradition. Other helpful features include a detailed table of contents, a list of significant dates, and many memorable photos.

The Language of the Heart

Hardcover, 410 pages, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1988

The Language of the Heart is a collection of Bill W.’s Grapevine writings. Covering the period from 1944 to the late 1960’s, they show Bill’s reflections on AA history as it was happening and his deepening understanding of the Steps, the Traditions, and their underlying principles. The book is divided into three time periods, with each further divided into topical segments. Part One (1944-1950) is concerned primarily with the Traditions. Part Two (1950-1958) centers on the Fellowship’s growing maturity. Part Three (1958-1970) focuses on the practice of AA principles in all our affairs and the goal of emotional sobriety. Memorial articles and pieces about the Grapevine complete this singular work.

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