Cover image for Bill W. and Mr. Wilson : the legend and life of A.A.'s cofounder
Bill W. and Mr. Wilson : the legend and life of A.A.'s cofounder
Raphael, Matthew J.
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Publication Information:
Amherst : University of Massachusetts Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xiv, 206 pages ; 24 cm
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HV5032.W19 R36 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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William Griffith Wilson is better known to many as Bill W., cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous. This work presents a revealing look at both the legendary Bill W. and the private Mr. Wilson, who tried to live apart from his own celebrity.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Raphael, a pseudonymous Alcoholics Anonymous member who celebrated his thirteenth year of sobriety while writing this book, has not attempted a scholarly biography, though he has consulted archival collections and interviewed a variety of persons. Rather, he aimed to produce a book of "personal impressions and ruminations," and he has generally succeeded. Readers familiar with one or more of the widely differing biographies of Bill W. will find some additional material and some thought-provoking views here. Raphael shows that Bill was influenced by William James' classic study The Varieties of Religious Experience and that he was a lively, egotistic man rather than the saintly figure so often presented by some in A.A. In Raphael's pages, Bill becomes someone to spend an enjoyable evening with, though the urge to give him a kick in the pants might occasionally arise. Raphael's summary view of Bill is that he was intensely aware of his own shortcomings and intensely seeking self-awareness and spiritual discipline. --William Beatty

Library Journal Review

"[I]n a hotel then known as Wilson House I was born, perhaps rightly, in a room just back of the old bar," writes Wilson (1895-1970), cofounder and organizer of Alcoholics Anonymous, in this first published edition of an autobiography he began in 1954. Telling one's story is an important AA tradition. Bill W., as Wilson was known in AA circles, had a reputation for being a good storyteller and had previously recounted much of his life in the Big Book (also titled Alcoholics Anonymous) and other writings. Here, Wilson tells of his childhood, military service, marriage, attempts to stop drinking, and spiritual conversion in 1934 but stops short of his historic meeting with cofounder Dr. Bob. The publisher has added articles, appendixes, and recollections of friends, family, and colleagues to flesh out Wilson's fragmented account. In contrast to Francis Hartigan's recent conventional but comprehensive biography, Bill W. (LJ 2/1/00), Bill W. and Mr. Wilson offers an outsider's "personal impressions and ruminations." Following Wilson's own three-part formula ("what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now"), Raphael, an AA member writing under a pseudonym, observes that "what [Bill W.] used to be like scarcely exists outside...the account he first gave in Alcoholics Anonymous and then repeated often." Raphael seeks to distinguish Bill W., cofounder of AA and the Twelve Steps, from Bill Wilson, who "closely guarded his private life during his public career, even as he seemed to bare his soul at AA meetings." Throughout his life, Wilson battled depression, smoked heavily, and had a reputation as a womanizer. Later in life, he participated in LSD research and promoted alternative therapies for alcoholism. As Raphael describes Wilson's life, he traces parallels in the evolution of AA from its origins in the Oxford Group, a religious lay movement, to a worldwide self-help organization of alcoholics helping alcoholics. Both books, while important contributions to the growing literature on Bill W., are supplementary purchases for collections on drug and alcohol abuse. General collections should acquire Hartigan's Bill W.DLucille M. Boone, San Jose P.L., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Bill Wilson (1895-1971), known as Bill W. in Alcoholics Anonymous, was the charismatic cofounder of AA in the mid-1930s and the principal author of its Big Book. He has long overshadowed the other cofounder, Dr. Bob Smith (1879-1950). Wilson was a complicated and imperfect man: a self-promoter and a womanizer, often subject to depression, but genuinely committed to the AA ideology of mutual aid for recovering alcoholics. He was an influential (although anonymous) figure in mid-20th-century America, a conservative reformer who changed many lives for the better. Two well-researched and candid biographies have appeared simultaneously, Francis Hartigan's Bill W (2000) and the book under review, by Matthew J. Raphael (Raphael is a pseudonym adopted by a long-time AA member.) The general reader may prefer Hartigan's biography, but Raphael's is more ambitious, more analytical, and more evocative of Alcoholics Anonymous culture. Raphael admires Wilson but rejects convenient myths and silences. For instance, he persuasively deconstructs previously accepted traditions about the founding of AA and points out that toward the end of his life Wilson "stopped going to AA meetings!" Both public and academic libraries at all levels. D. M. Fahey; Miami University