The Four Great AA Authors

reproduced by kind permission of the Hindsfoot Foundation

The four great authors of AAThese were the four most-published early AA authors, who form one of the most important parts of AA's historic heritage. What was early A.A. like? What kinds of topics did they talk about at their meetings? How did they obtain such an astonishing success rate in getting alcoholics sober? What were they teaching the newcomers who came into the programme?


Bill was the principal author of Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book) and later wrote Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. These are the two central books in AA thought. Everything else in the programme hinges upon reading these two works over and over again, because those who do so find them an ever-fresh source of new insights.


24 hours a dayRich Walker wrote Twenty-four Hours a Day, the second great book of early AA  The good old timers tell us over and over again that they got sober on two books, the Big Book and this one. At the top of each page Rich lays out basic meat-and-potatoes information about how we used to behave when we were drinking, how we need to change our lives, and what we need to do in order to keep the AA fellowship together. Then at the bottom of each page he tells us how to pray and meditate. The eleventh step says "Sought through prayer and meditation (a) to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for (b) knowledge of His will for us and (c) the power to carry that out." Rich's little black book tells us how to actually do that.

Rich was a Boston businessman who joined AA in May 1942, shortly after the first AA group was formed in that city. He originally wrote this material on small cards which he carried in his pocket, to aid him in his own sobriety. The members of the AA group in Daytona Beach, Florida, persuaded him in 1948 to publish it in the form of a little black book, which they printed on the printing press at the county courthouse and began distributing all over the country under the sponsorship of their AA group.


Ralf Pfau wrote the Golden Books under the pen name of Father John Doe, to preserve his anonymity. The twelfth step says "(a) Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried (b) to carry this message to alcoholics, and (c) to practice these principles in all our affairs." The Golden Books tell us how to do the last part, that is, how to bring the principles of the programme to bear on our daily lives in the world, how to make decisions in the real world, and how to keep our minds and spirits on an even keel amidst the storms and stresses of everyday life.

Ralph Pfau was a priest in Indianapolis, Indiana, the first Roman Catholic priest to get sober in the AA programme. On November 10, 1943, he telephoned Doherty Sheerin, who had started the first AA group in that city on October 28, 1940. Dohr became his sponsor, and Ralph never drank again. In June 1947, Ralph conducted a weekend spiritual retreat for AA members (70% of them Protestants) at St. Joseph’s College at Rensselaer, Indiana, and gave the attendees (as a souvenir) a little pamphlet with a cover made of gold foil, called the "Spiritual Side," containing the short talks he had given to start up the various group discussion sessions. Afterwards, people began asking for extra copies to give to their A.A. friends. Between then and 1964, Ralph put together fourteen of these little "Golden Books," based on his talks at AA spiritual retreats which he was now giving all over the U.S. and Canada. To give him more time to do AA work, he became chaplain of the Good Shepherd Convent in Indianapolis in1950, where a team of three nuns helped him form his own little AA publishing house to print and distribute his Golden Books and his other writings, such as "Sobriety Without End" and "Sobriety and Beyond" for instance, to AA members all over the globe.


The little red book Ed Webster wrote The Little Red Book, which had a chapter explaining how to work each of the twelve steps. Dr. Bob thought it was the best description of how to work the steps that had ever been written. He sent copies of it all over the U.S. and Canada with his recommendation. Until Dr. Bob's death in 1950, he insisted that the New York A.A. office make copies of this book available for sale through their office.

The Little Red book went through a series of editions: the most important are the first edition which came out in 1946, followed by the two 1947 editions, a 1948 edition, and a 1949 edition which had two printings. At every step in the process, Dr. Bob was putting handwritten notes on the books and manuscripts, giving Ed his suggestions for changes and revisions, all of which Ed incorporated. Dr. Bob (unlike Bill W.) was not a writer, so The Little Red Book is the closest thing we have to knowing how Dr. Bob taught newcomers, and what he thought they ought to know about the twelve steps and how to work them in order to get sober and stay sober for the rest of your life.

Ed Webster got sober in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on December 13, 1941. He and his AA friend Barry Collins formed their own little AA publishing company, called the Coll-Webb Co., where they printed and distributed copies of this book under the sponsorship of the Nicollet Group in Minneapolis until Ed's death in 1971.

After Dr. Bob's death in 1950, Bill W. wanted to write his own, more highly philosophical discussion of the steps, which would be very different from The Little Red Book  Bill W. published this in 1952-3 as the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. He had grave difficulties obtaining the money to print that book, and after it was published, he insisted that the New York A.A. office put its full weight into pushing this book over The Little Red Book, so they would not have a warehouse full of unsold books.

Nevertheless, there are many good old-timers who will tell you that they would never have gotten sober if they had tried to deal with the 12 & 12 right away, when they first came in. It was too complicated, and their minds were still befuddled and confused with the after-effects of too many years of drinking. They will tell you that they got sober on two books basically -- the Big Book and the 24 Hour book -- followed by a study of the steps in The Little Red Book and the little early A.A. pamphlet called the Tablemate.


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