Key Players in AA history

Just before Christmas, Jon did a great podcast for this site with Bob K about AA history and the issues that atheists have in 12 step fellowships. I thought it was really good and decided to read Bob’s book on the history of AA called “Key Players in AA history”. I thought it was an excellent read and would recommend it to anyone who wishes to look at the origins of AA. I think it is important that you do, if you are going to use AA as the basis for your recovery.

Key Players in AA History

It is ironic that this book is not sold in AA meetings as it is not official AA literature. In fact one of the worse places to learn about the origins of AA is in a 12 step meeting. It is a shame it cannot be sold there as I am sure many members would be interested and it puts the origins of AA in a historical context. Some of the information has been published before, but this is all referenced and is probably the only book that puts this in one place. Some online accounts about AA seem to be very biased either for and against AA and are inaccurate as a result. This is not the case here and deals some of the AA controversies in a sensible way such as Bill Wilson taking LSD in an effort to find a solution for alcoholism as well as womanising etc. It also talks about how AA grew using publicity which is certainly something that smaller recovery groups could learn from today.

In my early days of recovery, I tried to read as much as possible on the subject, and am grateful that I was doing this at a time when online sellers gave me access to titles I would otherwise have missed. I wish I had been able to have read this book back then as it would have given me a good background to the people that I heard about in meetings, yet knew little about their lives and backgrounds other than what was in the Big Book.

Here is the contents of the book so you can see who he writes about. I found all this really interesting even though I moved on from AA nine years ago and I feel it would interest people from all parts of the recovery community, as it gives a good account of the people who are behind what is the biggest recovery community. I think members of other recovery groups could also learn a lot from the way AA grew through members reaching out to others, and by positive endorsement by the media. If it worked for AA, it could work for your group.



Foreword by Ernest Kurtz and William L. White



Chapter 1 Bill Wilson’s Vermont Roots (Prequel to a Prequel)

Chapter 2 Young Bill Wilson (Prequel to Bill’s Story)

Chapter 3 The LSD Experiments

Chapter 4 Bill and Rumors of Other Women

Chapter 5 Doctor Bob – Part One (1879-1935)

Chapter 6 Doctor Bob – Part Two (1935-1950)


Chapter 7 Dr. Benjamin Rush

Chapter 8 The Washingtonian Society

Chapter 9 What is “New Thought”?

Chapter 10 Jerry McAuley and The Water Street Mission

Chapter 11 20th Century Influences on AA

Chapter 12 Charles Towns

Chapter 13 Frank Buchman and The Oxford Group

Chapter 14 Sam Shoemaker


Chapter 15 William James

Chapter 16 Carl Jung

Chapter 17 William D. Silkworth


Chapter 18 Rowland Hazard

Chapter 19 Ebby Thacher

Chapter 20 Henry Parkhurst

Chapter 21 Clarence Snyder

Chapter 22 Jim Burwell

Chapter 23 Richmond Walker


Chapter 24 Lois Wilson

Chapter 25 Anne Ripley Smith

Chapter 26 Florence R.

Chapter 27 Sylvia K.

Chapter 28 Marty Mann and the Early Women of AA

Chapter 29 Henrietta Seiberling


Chapter 30 Willard Richardson and the Rockefellers

Chapter 31 Selling AA – Early Publicity

Chapter 32 Anonymity in the 21st Century


Commenting area

  1. Great post! I love this book and Bob K is a really good writer. He’s done a huge amount to promote atheist AA groups in Canada online and in real life and, like many atheist AAs, is far more open-minded than traditionalists (such as I was) in terms of his approach. Thanks. JS

    • Thanks Jon, I thought your podcast with him was really interesting. If more people were open minded in AA and there were more groups that are not so religious and simply about offering empathy and advice based on experience, I feel AA would prosper.
      I really enjoyed this book despite haveing moved on from the fellowship some time ago, and feel it is the best overall book on the background of AA.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. The research was diligent, and I think the self-deprecatory humor, although odd in a history book, is very much AA at its best.

    • Thanks Bob, The humour is something I miss from AA as there were certainly some characters there. The Stinkin Thinkin site that was aimed at people who left AA also had that for a while. Your book is a great read, thanks very much.

  3. Can I buy a copy of this? How much

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