BILL W. by Robert Thomsen


Email this review


Following the wishes of William Wilson, late co-founder and essentially creator of Alcoholics Anonymous, the author, who worked with ""Bill W."" for twelve years, has styled this biography fora general audience. Although blending in and paraphasing Wilson's own words (which are stronger on communication than on style) has resulted in some rather ungainly prose, this is an unusual and often moving insight into the unique chain-smoking-and-coffee-pot dynamics of A.A. The author reviews Wilson's early life and its lows and highs (the desertion of his father, death of his fiancee; success in business, triumphant survival in WW I) and then the slide into acute alcoholism. It is via the story of Wilson's struggle against booze (A.A. members are apt to use gut terms) that Wilson's remarkable talents for synthesizing insights and information, and his own instinctive understanding of the needs of alcoholics, emerge. A friend from the Oxford Group first introduced the concept that a drunk must admit he's powerless against alcohol and should hope for help from a ""higher power"" (the first two items in A.A.'s ""12 Steps""); a New York doctor pointed out the physical dangers of alcoholism, and urged Wilson (now climbing out of the abyss after a ""mystical experience""), to stop preaching about his ""special hot flash."" And there was that momentous meeting with Dr. Bob Smith, another alcoholic, to whom Wilson went for help because he realized his deep need to ""talk and work with another drunk."" The author traces the slow and then sudden growth of A.A., the feuds and forensics, but this is essentially a portrait of a man and ""his people""--""men who had wanted double everything""--with whom he felt completely equal and ""at home"" in a brotherhood of mutual concern. Also included here is a letter from Cad lung to Wilson, which offers a metaphysical/psychological extension to A.A.'s ""religious"" suggestions (carefully worded to appease atheists). A.A. groups, typically, will have as many opinions as there are members about this book, but it will be read--and should be-not only by those affected by booze, but by the ""civilians.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1975
Publisher: Harper & Row