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No Preaching; No Finger Pointing: New Book Shows Why Alcoholic Self-Help Group Works

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Hazelden Publishing's new release, The Book That Started it All: The Original Working Manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous a copy of the 1939 version of Alcoholics Anonymous, shows, through its original edits, that AA's simple steps were far from simple.

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We asked Sid Farrar, the book's editor and Hazelden's editorial director, how the handwritten exchanges in the book reveal the philosophies which have kept the 12-step fellowship effective.

Rosenberg: The Book That Started it All contains high resolution photostats of original edits in many different colors including plain pencil. There are comments and even disagreements written in the margins. Do we know who wrote the remarks and who was the final arbiter?

Farrar: Bill Wilson's handwriting [the founder of AA, also known as Bill W.] is somewhat recognizable in places and there is a wonderful note at the beginning of the book from his wife, Lois. The identity of the other editors could not be known without a handwriting analysis.

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As far as who was the final editor, Bill Wilson sent the original manuscript to 400 people for their input. All the remarks were incorporated by all the editors working with Bill Wilson at the time and there was no single "author." This was an early example of the group conscience which still governs AA today -- that no one is in charge and "leaders are trusted servants who do not govern." It also reflects that members are anonymous.

Rosenberg: The book Alcoholics Anonymous, commonly referred to as the Big Book, is still in wide use today and the individual stories in the back of the book have not changed much since the first edition. What are the biggest changes in the front of the book from the way it was originally written to the way it appears today?

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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