Newcomers, How do you read your Big Book?

WE, OF Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book. For them, we hope these pages will prove so convincing that no further authentication will be necessary. We think this account of our experiences will help everyone to better understand the alcoholic. Many do not comprehend that the alcoholic is a very sick person. And besides, we are sure that our way of living has its advantages for all. (Forward to the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous)

The Big Book gives us one suggestion to encourage the newcomer to learn the AA way of life, on page 94 it says,

“If he shows interest, lend him your copy of this book.”

Since the Big Book’s publication in 1939 there has been several approaches developed to help the newcomer understand the AA way of life. Here are just a few of the ways a newcomer can experience their Big Book.

Joe and Charlie Big Book Seminars

Joe and Charlie – Specific, Precise, Clear Cut Directions – A Guide to The Big Book and Recovery( They did a line by line study of the first 103 pages. They made the unclear clear. They did it with humor, with purpose, and with brevity. Some are intimidated by this. Even the Joe and Charlie Big Book Seminars have been subjected to the comments that they violate the Traditions and that they speak of non-Conference approved literature. But the Seminars have stood the test of time, with A.A.’s own archivist from New York often participating. (

Joe McQ. & Charlie P. met in 1973 ,soon they were planning meetings in hotel rooms at AA conventions in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and within a few years, the meetings grew in popularity. In 1977, some members met in a Tulsa, OK hotel room for a discussion of the Big Book. One asked Joe & Charlie to come to his home group to present a program on the book. An AA taper made a four tape set of their presentation and called it “The Big Book Study”. The tapes were gradually circulated throughout the fellowship and invitations were received for Joe & Charlie to present the study at AA conventions, roundups and special events. By 1980, there had been about eight studies offered.

Studies have been given in 48 states and most Canadian provinces. Additionally, Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands have all hosted the Big Book Study seminars with Joe & Charlie.

All this growth has not come without a measure of turbulence. What spiritual journey does not encounter obstacles? Some fellow AAs have termed the duo, “self-appointed gurus”. Others have accused them of making money on these weekends. Actually, only travel expenses, meals and lodging are paid for by the independent AA host committee sponsoring the study. This is in accordance with the AA Guidelines for Conferences and Conventions (MG4), published by the General Service Office. Since 1977, an estimated 200,000 AA Members have experienced the spiritual benefits of these collective studies.

The Hyannis Method

The “Big Book Step Study” (BBSS) format, based upon an AA meeting format originated in Hyannis, Mass. in the 1980’s, is part of a very structured way of working the 12 Steps out of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. In many BBSS meetings, only members who have worked the 12 Steps according to this structure are permitted to share.

Usually lasts an hour and a half with no break. It’s divided into three basic parts: the reading, the speaker, and discussion of the step being studied.

The Readings for the 12 Steps in the Big Book. Also known as the cycle, or step rotation, this is a 15-week rotation of readings. The chairperson announces the step, and pages in the Big Book that will be used as a topic for the meeting that night. The chairperson starts the reading by asking people to read, a paragraph at a time, going around the tables or the room. (

Here is the Step Rotation Guide

Step Reading Week
1 “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol…” The Doctor’s Opinion pp. xxiii-xxx 1
1 “…that our lives had become unmanageable.” Chapter 3: More About Alcoholism pp. 30-43 2
2 “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Chapter 4: We Agnostics pp. 44-57 3
2 “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Chapter 2: There Is A Solution pp. 17-29 4
3 “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Chapter 5: How It Works pp. 58-64 4
4 “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Resentment Chapter 5: How It Works pp. 64-67 5
4 “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Fear Chapter 5: How It Works pp. 67-68 6
4 “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Sex Chapter 5: How It Works pp. 68-71 7
5 “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Chapter 6: Into Action pp. 72-75 8
6-7 “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”  “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” Chapter 6: Into Action pp. 76 9
8-9 “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”  “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Chapter 6: Into Action pp. 76-84 10
10 “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” Chapter 6: Into Action pp. 84-85 11
11 “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” Chapter 6: Into Action pp. 85-88 12
12 “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics…” Chapter 7: Working with Others
pp. 89-96
12 “…and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Chapter 7: Working with Others
pp. 96-103

Primary Purpose Groups

Primary Purpose Group Big Book Study Meetings are based on following a Big Book Study Guide which examines virtually every sentence in the Basic Text for Alcoholics Anonymous.

The purpose of this Study Guide ( is to enable the student to understand the information the authors of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, intended to impart to each of us based on their experience and knowledge of alcoholism and their Program of Recovery. It can be used by an individual or by a group. This Guide is intended to examine the content of virtually every sentence in the basic text of the Big Book.

Example: Big Book Study Guide: Chapter 3: More About Alcoholism (Page 30)


1. What are most alcoholics unwilling to admit?

2. What would nobody like to think?

3. What do our drinking careers demonstrate?

4. What is the great obsession of every alcoholic?

5. What is astonishing in the life of an alcoholic?

6. Where does the obsession or the illusion take many of us, in fact, most of us?


7. What did we learn that is absolutely necessary for success in sobriety?

8. Why is this so important?

Comment: Until the problem is completely understood, the solution will be out of reach.

9. Like the obsession and illusion, what must happen to the delusion?


10. One more time, what is the alcoholic’s problem?

11. What do we know?

12-a. What have all of us believed on occasions?

12-b. Where did this lead us?

Comment: When we speak of a “bottom,” is it a set of external events or just a single emotional event within each of us?

14. Of what are we convinced?

15. Will it get better?


16-a. Who are we compared to?

16-b. Why?

18. What treatment will let us become like other people where drinking is concerned?

Big Book Muckers/Bookers480

The Muckers are a rising rebuttal to the watered-down recovery program of “Just don’t drink and go to meetings” in the Greater Toronto, Ontario, Canada ara. Recovery rates had dropped to less than 10% percent in the late 1980s and were answered by a “Back-to-Basics” revival of the original, undiluted 12 step recovery program of the early 1940s where recovery rates were as high as 75% to 93%.

The Muckers are a group of men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of addiction and alcoholism, using the 12 step program as outlined in the book “Alcoholics Anonymous”. Central to the Muckers methodology is the action of a single recovered addict or alcoholic, guiding another addict or alcoholic through the Big Book. Muckers have discovered through experience that this one-on-one approach, as described in Chapter 7 of the Big Book, is a powerful method of working the 12 step program of recovery.

What is “Getting Booked”?

The focus is the Big Book; Muckers use no other text. The emphasis is on the first 89 pages of the Book, which have not been altered since originally published in 1939. The process of one addict/alcoholic guiding another through the Book takes between 24 and 30 hours, usually done in 2 – 3 hour sessions, typically over a period of 2 – 3 weeks. In the process, Muckers write comments and notes, circle words and highlight passages in the Book. (Muckers are called Muckers, because they muck up the Book!) During this period of “being booked”, the individual actually performs the first 11 steps of the program.

The purpose of this brief, intense process is to jump-start the program for the individual. The goal is to facilitate the “vital spiritual experience” as described throughout the Book, and to give the individual the tools to subsequently maintain and grow that experience. Once the individual has had this experience, we find that the addiction, that is the mental obsession is removed. Subsequently, much of the maintenance and growth of the spiritual experience is achieved by working Step 12. This means working directly with other alcoholics/addicts. Once recovered, the individual is encourage to pass the process on to someone else – to give it away. While other forms of service are not discouraged such as helping out at meetings, i.e. making coffee, setting up chairs etc., this is considered courtesy NOT Step 12 work.

Download a “mucked” Big Book muckers-big-book.pdf

Back to Basics

Back to basics, 12 steps in 4 hours
“Back-to-Basics is the Step-by-Step original Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners’ Meeting format that produced a 50% to 75% recovery rate from alcoholism during the 1940’s. These meetings were so successful that one of A.A.’s co-founders had this to say about them:

“Sobriety–freedom from alcohol–through the teaching and practice of the Twelve Steps is the sole purpose of an A.A. group. Groups have repeatedly tried other activities, and they have always failed…If we don’t stick to these principles, we shall almost surely collapse. And if we collapse, we cannot help anyone.”

Bill W., The A.A. Grapevine Inc., February 1958

Wally P. is an AA Archivist from Tucson, Arizona, a recovered alcoholic and the world’s foremost authority on A.A. and its’ success in the 1940’s. He has personally interviewed and tape recorded almost 200 of the original A.A. Members, all of whom recovered from the alcohol addiction in the 1940’s and 1950’s. For two years he researched and studied areas of the country that held “Beginners’ Classes”. He then started teaching the classes under the guidance of his sponsor who took the classes in 1953 and never drank again. In March of 1996 Wally mentioned the “Beginners’ Classes” as part of his historical presentation at the Wilson House in East Dorset, Vermont. Wally then wrote and published a book entitled “Back to Basics: The Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners’ Classes – Take all 12 Steps in Four One-Hour Sessions.” Wally P. has a website containing much information on the AA “Beginners’ Classes”.

Order the Book, Back-to-Basics by Wally P.

Call to order 520-297-9348 or visit:

Back to Basics with Wally P.

Upcoming Back to Basics,
How to Listen to God, & A.A. History Workshops

What is your favourite approach to reading the Big Book with Newcomers?

12 thoughts on “Newcomers, How do you read your Big Book?

  1. I am both a ‘mucker’ and an advocate of the Back-to-Basics approach (Wally P.) of guiding the newcomer through all 12 step in approximately 4 hours.

    I first qualify the prospect as to their willingness, honesty and open-mindedness to the A.A. way of life. I ask:

    Do you want to stop for good? i.e. Are you convinced you can no longer drink or use without harming yourself and/or others?

    Do you believe you are beyond human aid? i.e. Are you convinced you cannot quit on your own power?

    Do you believe or are you willing to believe in a higher power that could restore you to sanity?

    If yes, Would you be willing to ask this higher power for help without any reservations?

    Once satisfied with their desire to stop, I outline the program of action, that is we take all 12 steps in approximately 4 hours. At the end of this process I ask the newcomer if they are prepared to accept the A.A. way of life and if they say ‘YES’ I then proceed to work with them one on one going through the Big Book, page by page, circling and highlighting words and phrases. We study the first 103 pages of the Big Book and when we come to the Step instructions we take them together.

    I have experienced this process with almost 300 alcoholics and addicts over the past 4 years. I have had many spiritual experiences as a result of this approach as have many of the newcomers I have worked with. Approximately 50% of them are still sober today — thanks to the miracle of ‘Higher Power’. CF

  2. Hello All.

    I found alot of joy in reading the three articles just listed; In such a complicated world, I find that type of simplicity and Truth a blessing to be able to live in such a manner of basics.

    Those of us who carry the torch for people with any number of afflictions weighing them down, will be the ones to prosper on the path. Over the past years I have been called any number of insulting names when it comes to sharing my experience out of the B.B (AA’s basic text.)

    But its all good: Because I have reached a place with myself-Higher Power-others, to be able to see that "they know not what they do" when they say any number of degradng terms to me; and any number of degrading terms to my friend, when we speak of ending suffering; I find that it’s acceptted (it has to be accepted for my own sanity in all areas of my life.) So…it really means little to me what others do or say in meetings about such things as "think it through." My job is not to get these people to quit (their) message of what keeps them sober (the moderate types and the hard drinker/drugger types); my job is to make sure that THE A.A Message gets carried in such basic principles that a new-comer may "WAKE UP." My job is to look at a simple step process, such as the one that Eby used For Bill in a matter of days. So I always try to stay in the confines of that out-line; such a book as Wally P’s Back To Basic book; In there, I have found enormous amounts of experience and wisdom, which, ultamately derives from the original Alcoholics Anonymous Text.

    I Love ya all,

    Peace & Light :)

  3. I came to DA (Debtors Anonymous) in Dec ’92, after reaching yet another bottom in my life.I had been in "recovery" for 4 years, having made progress but still searching for answers and still fearing for my life.

    I had realized (by Dec ’92) that I had a multitude of addictions & assorted compulsive/obsessive issues, all contributing to my sense of being restless, irritable & discontented. I was, at that time, still unaware and in denial about having at least occasional bouts with depression. Destructive behavior patterns, spiritual bankruptcy and simply surviving was the way I had learned to live, rather than living life joyous, happy& free.

    I also violently attempted suicide in the spring of ’81, right after my 20th birthday, after wanting to commit suicide for most of my life, after the failure of my 1st big geographic cure. I had thought moving away from my home town and to a large city and becoming independent would solve all my problems. Wherever I went, there I was. I very nearly died but on the plus side, the struggle to recover from all the very serious injuries made me a lot stronger. Lately I’ve been able to admit that I’ve had periods of depression in my life of varying lengths, sometimes situational, and perhaps sometimes due to some kind of bi-polar disorder or chemical variety,which is very prominent on my Mother’s side of the family.

    Money became a drug for me, as well as tying directly in to many issues in my life, from low self-esteem to great fear of abandonment, to providing a means to mood alter chemically to just general self-abuse and co-dependency, to inability to express and/or deal with feelings. There are so many issues related to and responsible for my money problems that I’ve almost lost track. I get great comfort knowing that I only need to take action today,not try to analyze all the reasons why.

    After getting some recovery from NA (Narcotics Anon), ACOA, SLAA (Sex& Love Addicts Anon), Nicotine Anonymous, CODA,, plus lots of group & individual therapy, countless recovery books, tapes, videos, workshops,etc., I had even started to attend an alternative Church to focus more on spirituality. Finding a workable concept of a higher power was a major struggle that involved a search for two years until I came across concept that would work for me in the context of truly being able to work the 12 steps without unbearable pain. I had to connect with an un-conditional non-anthropomorphic (read: not modeled after my parents or other authority figure) in order to be able to squarely face defects of character without overwhelming pain.

    The real danger (in my mind) was always that I would stop thinking about and planning suicide and just go ahead and kill myself. Depression, despondency,and hopelessness from the various situations I created for myself due to my money issues and other sick behaviors became a serious threat to my life and resulted in a multi-layered rock-bottom. I could no longer denyI seriously needed help and I could not recover on my own.

    I heard about DA from a fellow ACOA who had read the "How to Get Outof Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously" book and who started the first DA meeting in Toronto in spring of ’92. I heard about the meeting, and I knew I needed help with money issues, but it still took 6 months to finally show up.

    I’ve committed to being regular at my weekly meeting and have had the great satisfaction of watching my debts slowly but surly melt away until last April ’96, when I gleefully marched into the bank and personally paid off the last of my debt. I great moment for me, to be sure, but also not as sweet as I had imagined. Just as I had to learn in the beginning of my DA recovery that I am not my debts or material things or income or whatever, I am also not my solvency, savings, etc. At one time I had thought that once I recover from my money problems, then the last of my major issues would be taken care of and I’d live happily ever after, but I was still feeling occasionally suicidal.

    I heard about a meeting of AA Big Book fundamentalists in the Toronto area, named "The Muckers" for the way they study the BB, marking up the pages as they pair up and guide one another through the BB text in a detailed, action oriented way–closely following the way of the first 100 to recover in AA. That was in June ’96, and after covering the 1st 88 pages of the BB and another rigorous application of the steps, I had a spiritual experience unlike anything I’ve ever known before and felt incredible, and "amazed before I was halfway through" as the Big Book says in the promises, page 83. I would highly recommend this experience for anyone who has not had it, it is incomparable. I began to pray several times throughout the day, as well as first thing in the morning.

    Learning about the history of AA from various sources and reading AA Big Book literature has become an important part of my recovery. I was first turned on to the profound significance of the original writing of the first 88 (unchanged since the original printing of the Big Book in1939) pages of the Big Book after hearing tapes of a Big Book study lead by two AA old timers Joe & Charlie from Arkansas. They travel around doing weekend Big Book studies that also include discussion of the history of the Big Book and the AA fellowship. First I listened to the tapes, was profoundly affected, then saw them in person for a weekend workshop in Toronto. I now know an appreciation for the miracle that occurred when a few white-collar low-bottom drunks recovered from a life-threatening spiritual sickness that was previously thought to be terminal. As I read the literature and learn the history of the miracle that developed between 1935 and 1940 I gain much insight into the true nature of my own comparable disease and the recovery that is possible. I know it is important to identify with Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob, and find the same solutions that led to their recovery from chronic alcoholism.

    It is from the same spiritual program and simple, but not easy, tools that resulted in recovery that will affect all areas of my life.

    But despite all that I know I can only have but a daily reprieve of relief from the burden of selfish self-centeredness that had always poisoned my life.

    I have begun to feel I am doing God’s will for me and am incredibly grateful for all my recovery and abundance that I have received. It seems today that the more happy, satisfied, and grateful I am for what I have today the more I seem to have provided for me. There are endless opportunities and I truly feel prosperous today. I have a nice apartment in a great uptownneighborhood of Toronto, a good luxury/sports car (paid off) and a growing investment portfolio. I have a secure, decent paying job with a great company and I even like the people I work with.I have taken a number of solvent vacations, one to a Caribbean island.I am currently in a great relationship with an incredible woman who isfar from under-earning, having broken the pattern of previous partner selections. I look forward to a secure, comfortable retirement, God willing and if I stay in this program. I came to DA to learn to handle money and have received so much more. One of the great benefits of my DA recovery has been a considerable boost in my self-esteem. I used to be a door mat in many ways.

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, everyone, thanks for keeping the DA fellowship alive by coming back, and keep coming back, as I could NEVER have made such remarkable progress alone.


    A gratefully recovering compulsive debtor & spender,

    (name witheld in the interest of preserving anonymity)

  4. I read my Big Book almost every day. Sometimes I study The Little Red Book instead which is an interpretation of the 12 Steps the early AA groups used in their discussion meetings. I read Back To Basic by Wally P. as a format for teaching the 12 Steps to newcomers in four one-hour sessions. All depends what my Higher Power wants me to read that day.

    Sometimes I read them in hard copy form and sometimes on my computer screen, magnified in size for my poorer eyesight lately. I blow it up to 200% and it is a different experience to see the letters that big on my screen.

    I read it paragraph by paragraph always thinking about the Newcomers I have worked with and how the paragraph applies to them and myself in order to help them and myself more by being able to carry the Original undiluted 12-step instructions that guarantee a daily reprieve from alcoholic addiction and all other addictions if practiced daily as a new way of living, thinking, acting and reacting to life.

    I have seen the daily practice of the 12 step philosophy arrest the obsession to pick up that first drink or first drug use in hundreds of addicts and alcoholics. I have also seen many many fall that do not practice the 12-Steps daily as outlined in The Big Book. The ones who fall sometimes come back, but some don’t and that saddens me.

    I honestly enjoy sitting down with the Big Book, and reading it, by myself, or with a Newcomer, no matter what time of day or what day of the week. It saved my life, and I am forever humbled by it and forever willing to carry this message of hope and this message of love to Newcomers.

    • Do you follow the Big Book from front cover to back cover written by Bill W. and others or Wally P. Non AA book ? Theres a saying ” What aint broke dont fix it ” .

  5. As an emotional and mental illness-suffering person, member of a 12 step fellowship in development in my country, I am supposed not to be identified with Basic Text content, since it was written by recovered ALCOHOLICS helping to other ALCOHOLIC.

    However, after listening to tapes of AA members who hadn’t been able to stay sober and/or living the same turmoil without the "comfort" of a drink, and were leaded through BB and steps, I did it, too. The result has been amazing, since I understood my illness in my own literature, and I did the Steps, but when going to make amends I found myself reluctant, afraid and angry and no praying no sharing took my feelings away. I found I hadn’t found the exact nature of my defects in my 4th and 5th steps, but most important, I had thought the recovery would be getting back to my old life with a growing control, "with a little help" of God. I thought I had Power, and God would give me Power and then, look at me while I graciously succeeded in life and extended a hand to help anybody who needed the Steps.

    I hadn’t experience the First Step Experience: being trapped on a corner, where I couldn’t escape, lie, deal, cheat, manipulate, beg. Thanks to audios, and The Muckers BB, I started the BB study and my own literature study from a complete different angle. I really NEED A HIGHER POWER from now and ever without any deal. Period. Now an AA member and me are going through the Book together (fellow member said, it’s not about reading but living and "go to meetings and don’t drink"). It’s being one of the powerful experiences of all my life, discovering I don’t truly have power and I won’t. I am dying, even now that I have a job, a fellowship, better relations with my family: I need these principles to live, the spiritual base for my living. Now I’m in the position to search and maintain a relation with a HP and do whatever it takes from freedom from my own disease. Because I am dying unless I have a complete psychic change.

    My own temptation is "get Muckers and a bit of Joe and Charlie and a pinch of Wally"to get a much better recipe for me. It doesn’t work in my experience. I’m learning to do one thing until the end and then, get another one. It’s important I stay focused in the Basic Text who "shows me precisely how they recovered". And in BB study and living, this approach is going well.

    Thanks to all of you out there, guys, and thanks to the servers of this website, who first shocked my own recovery to the core when showing Clarence S. and Program dilution articles. Happy, joyous and free recovery for all of you around the world.

  6. I have been sober for 32 years. In my understanding of our recovery program I hope that I have passed the stage of criticising fellow members on how they stay sober. There are lots of my family sober in the Fellowship and they will stay sober as I will stay sober in mine. Love and tolerance of others is our code.. I am not a soberologist; just a sober engineer. Where is the humility in expressing how many alcoholics I have managed to get sober?

  7. Ha how you all doing everybody ..First came to AA 1976 but i looked around the room and i said Damn look at these old people . Then i heard the word God and i said Hell no i left religion years ago . Then i left AA behind . It wasnt till Dec 25th 1991 that i returned to AA again all beat the heck up and Willing to give up Alcohol . 27 years have gone by and ive seen all those other cult like way to work the Spiritual program of AA .( Wally P. / Joe & Charlie etc etc etc ) . Thank my Higher Power put hard core Big Book fanatics ( Ha Ha ) in my path both men and women . They said youll hear to start on page 1-164 , Bull Crap they started me at the Front cover and finished at the Back cover . As years gone by im a Mucker in a way i right notes and mini-biographies of people places and things .in the BB and all other AA literature . To get technical the 12 steps starts on page 30 and end on page 103 . I dont Sponsor anyone i work as one Alcoholic working with another . We are equal and really on a Higher Power to keep me Sober .

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