Love and Tolerance 


Others is our Code

Where Did The Big Book Come From?

What were the sources of the ideas and principles of the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous? 

Bill W. answered this question in an address delivered to the Medical Society of the State of New York on May 9, 1944.


Bill W. stated: "At the very outset we should like to make it ever so clear that A.A. is a synthetic concept - a synthetic gadget, as it were, drawing upon the resources of medicine, psychiatry, religion and our own experience of drinking and recovery. You will search in vain for a single new fundamental. We have merely streamlined old and proven principles of psychiatry and religion into such forms that the alcoholic will accept them. And then we have created a society of his own kind where he can enthusiastically put these very principles to work on himself and other suffers."  

"Alcoholics Anonymous has made two major contributions to the program of psychiatry and religion. These are, it seems to us, the long missing links in the chain of recovery.  Our ability as ex-drinkers, to secure the confidence of the new man - to build a transmission line into him.  The provision of an understanding society of ex-drinkers in which the newcomer can successfully apply the principles of medicine and religion to himself and others." 


I have put this information together so as those interested in Alcoholics Anonymous and it's program of recovery may gain some insight into the sources of the Big Book's insights. (Jim B.)   

Man, The Unknown By Alexis Carrel  

Published in 1935, this 346 page volume was the turning point in determining what focus the Big Book should take.  Carrel's main point is that the world is full of specialists who can create things out of the elements above and below the ground, but when it comes to man himself very little is known.  Carrel claims that the mistake being made is that man is allowing himself to be governed by science when man is a natural being and is driven by instincts and must be governed by the laws of nature.  

Bill W., in an address to the Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies stated: "On reading that book, some of us realized that was just what we had been groping towards. We had begun to build a program out of our own experiences. At this point we thought, let's reach into other people's experiences. Let's go back to our friends the doctors, let's go back to our friends the preachers, the social workers, all those who have been concerned with us, and again review what they have got and bring it into synthesis. And let us, where we can, bring them in where they will fit.  So our process of trial and error began and at the end of four years, the material was cast in the form of a book known as Alcoholics Anonymous."     

The Bible  

The early members read and studied the Bible and special emphasis was given to the following two areas:  1- I Corinthians XIII. Paul listed the aspects of love and points of what love is not. He also points out the contrast between gifts, perfection and love.  2- The Book of James. The theme of the book of James is Christianity in action and it deals with a series of topics which were of great interest to the alcoholics. These topics are:  - 1:1-18 Trials and Temptations  - 1:19-27 Listening and Doing  - 2:1-13 Mercy and Judgement  - 2:14-26 Faith and Works  - 3:1-12 Taming the Tongue  - 3:13-18 True and False Wisdom  - 4:1-12 Friendship With God  - 4:13-5:12 Investing In the Future  - 5:13-20 Power of Prayer.  The phrase "Faith Without Works is Dead" is taken directly from the Book of James.

The Varieties of Religious Experience By William James  

Published in 1902, this 526 page book was read by Bill W. following his spiritual experience in Towns Hospital, in order to understand what had happened to him.  Spiritual experiences, James thought, could transform people. Some were sudden; others came on gradually. Some flowed out of religious channels; others did not. But nearly all had the great common denominators of pain, suffering and calamity. Complete hopelessness and deflation at depth were almost always required to make the person ready.  Bill W. reasoned that to have a spiritual experience or awakening required:


There had to be a complete failure of the will in a certain part of one's life. With the alcoholic it was the control of alcohol.  There had to be an admission of failure.  There must be a cry for help.  

Thus, the A.A. procedure of telling one's story and stressing the progressive loss of control and the fatal malady consisting of the physical allergy and the mental obsession. When this is driven home the alcoholic will surrender to the problem and then, is open to the solution.

The Greatest Thing In The World By Henry Drummond  

Written in 1883 at a mission station in Africa, Drummond first delivered his sermon on Love at the 1887 Northfield Conference in Massachusetts.  The sermon is an analysis of I Corinthians XIII, which is Paul's explanation of the supreme gift - Love.  Drummond describes the spectrum of Love as having nine elements.


PATIENCE - "Love suffereth long." 

KINDNESS - "And is kind." 

GENEROSITY - "Love envieth not." 

HUMILITY - ""Love vaunteth not itself." 

COURTESY - "Doth not behave itself unseemly." 

UNSELFISHNESS - "Seeketh not her own." 

GOOD TEMPER - "Is not easily provoked." 

GUILELESSNESS - "Thinketh no evil." 

SINCERITY - "Rejoiceth not in iniquity but in truth."  

To these nine aspects the early members added GRATITUDE and TOLERANCE.  

GRATITUDE - "The willingness to repay for gifts received." 

TOLERANCE - "To allow the other guy or gal their right to be wrong.”


To resist Not evil and to understand that people who are spiritually sick Will act poorly.  The early members used to practice one of these elements each week and then discuss the results. This way they came to understand Steps six and seven.


 As A Man Thinketh By James Allen  

Published in 1902, this volume can vary in page quantity but is usually printed as 59 pages. This book was used by early members to understand the principle of "cause and effect."  Allen makes the following points:  - A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.  - Man creates all of the circumstances of his life through thought, and his environment is the reflection of these circumstances.  - The mind must be treated as a garden so we must learn to identify and remove the weeds.  - We must learn to crucify ourselves on a daily basis as daily living demands daily dying.  Thus, the core A.A. ideas that "we must get down to causes and conditions" and "so our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making." That, "some of us have tried to hold onto our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely."     

What Is The Oxford Group? By The Layman With A Notebook  

Published in 1933, this 132 page volume was considered as the basic text and purpose was to explain the principles of the Group's life changing program and the practical spiritual activities.  The Oxford Group had four basic points, which are the key to the kind of spiritual life God wishes us to lead. These points are - Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness and Absolute Love.  To be spiritually reborn, and to live in the state in which these four points are the guides to our life in God, the Oxford Group advocated four practical spiritual activities:


The sharing of our sins and temptations with another Christian life given to God, and to use sharing as witness to help others, still unchanged, to recognize and acknowledge their sins.  

Surrender of our life, past, present, and future, into God's keeping and direction.  

Restitution to all whom we have wronged directly or indirectly.  

Listening to, accepting, relying on God's guidance and carrying it out in everything we do or say, great or small.  

These spiritual activities have proved indispensable to countless numbers who are living changed lives. They are not new ideas or inventions of the Oxford Group. They are the simple tenants of simple Christianity.


The Oxford Group had many traditional practices which can be found in A.A.  - O.G. meetings opened with a moment of meditative prayer and closed with the Lord's Prayer.  - O.G. had open and closed meetings. Open meetings were sharing for witness and closed meetings sharing for confession.  - Each group had a business team which was responsible for the Group's program, set-up and clean-up.  - Members practiced anonymity.  - Members celebrated the anniversary of their spiritual rebirth with a cake.  - Advocated the practice of sponsorship. Their motto was "walk with the new man until he becomes a life changer, then leave him alone as the needs of others will drive him back to God.  - They organized round-ups and conventions.


For Sinners Only By A.J. Russell  

Published in 1932, this 347 page volume was a testament to the effectiveness of the Oxford Groups. The book describes in detail the aims and processes used to bring a person to a changed life.  The Oxford Group described "sin" as anything which blocks me off from God and my fellow man. From this book Bill W. borrowed much of the writings on self and the functioning of self contained in Chapter 5. Most of the ideas contained in Steps 3,4,5,8,9 came directly from this book.   

The Common Sense of Drinking By Richard R. Peabody  

Published in 1934, this 191-page volume was written by a recovered alcoholic who had utilized the program of the Emmanuel Movement in Boston. Peabody went on to become a lay therapist in New York City and he had an office near the Calvary Church where Bill W. was attending meetings of the Oxford Group.  From this book, Bill W. borrowed phrases such as "once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic" and "half measures are of no avail." In addition the entire story of "a man of thirty" contained in the chapter More About Alcoholism appears to have been lifted from Peabody's book.     

Sermon On The Mount By Emmet Fox  

Published in 1934, this 199 page volume was used by the early A.A. members and those in New York also attended Fox's lectures.  Fox explained that the Beatitudes are a prose poem in eight versus (Matthew V) which is complete in itself and constitutes what is practically a general summary of the whole Christian teachings.  The book was of special interest as the Oxford Group had adopted four basic points: Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness and Absolute Love as guides to our life on God.

The Principles of Jesus in 1902 by Robert Speer (in which the Beatitudes are distilled into the Four Absolutes.)      

Twice Born, Men Souls In Action By Harold Begbie  

These two book which were written in 1909 and 1911, respectively, were volumes of "drunk stories" of men and women who recovered through spiritual experiences and came in contact with the Salvation Army in England. The stories have titles such as A Tight Handful, The Criminal, The Copper Basher, Lowest of the Low, Rags and Bones and Apparent Failure. The Big Book contains similar anonymous titles.

A Way Of Life By William Osler  

Published in 1937, this 41 page volume was used by early A.A.s to understand the concept of living one day at a time.  This volume is an address delivered by Osler at Yale University in 1913 and contains a philosophy of life. Osler drives home the following:  - "Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand."  - "Our lives are like a great ocean liner. We must learn to walk through the compartments each day  - "The load of tomorrow added to that of yesterday, carried today, makes the strongest falter." 


A NOTE THE IMPLICATIONS OF PSYCHIATRY, THE STUDY OF INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS, FOR INVESTIGATIONS IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES By Harry Stack Sulllivan, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 42, July 1936 - May 1937, pp.848-861.  

Abstract The collection of data in social science inquiries is specifically complicated by certain factors inhering in the personality of the investigator. These factors are identical with a major preoccupation of the psychiatrist. This article undertakes to indicate the character of these complicating factors, their effects on inquiry, and the path along which their influence may be minimized or removed.     


Written in 1937, this 255 page volume departs from Freud and his emphasis on the biological and physiological origins of neurosis. She maintains instead that the conflicts found in neurotic persons in a given culture correspond to the ways of life characteristic of that culture: "It is an individual fate, for example, to have a domineering or 'self-sacrificing' mother, but it is only under definite cultural conditions that we find domineering or self-sacrificing mothers, and it is only because of these existing conditions that such an experience will have an influence on later life."