June 20, 2005
(TORONTO, ONTARIO) The 25 millionth copy of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous will be presented to Jill Brown, warden of San Quentin prison, at the International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous which takes place in Toronto June 30 - July 3. The landmark book will be presented to Warden Brown by Allen Ault, Class A (nonalcoholic) trustee of Alcoholics Anonymous, who has been a director of corrections in three states and is currently Dean of the College of Justice and Safety at Eastern Kentucky University in the United States.
The gift of the book is A.A.'s way of expressing gratitude for that institution's long history of supporting A.A as a resource for alcoholic inmates. The first A.A. meeting in a prison was held in San Quentin in 1941. Since that time, hundreds of A.A. groups have sprung up behind prison walls. Some have started with the help of A.A. members on the outside, and all with the vital support and cooperation of corrections personnel.
For the Big Book itself, passing the 25 million sales mark in English versions alone is something worth noting. It took 36 years to sell the first million copies. Now A.A. distributes approximately one million books each year in the English-language edition alone.
It didn't seem like that would be the case in 1939. The new book Alcoholics Anonymous was featured on a popular radio show by radio commentator Gabriel Heatter, and three days later, A.A. founders lugged empty suitcases to their post office box in anticipation of a deluge of orders only to find two lone inquiries. Often called A.A.'s “most effective sponsor,” the Big Book was launched on a shoestring. Initially sales lagged, and the young Fellowship found itself saddled with nearly 5,000 unsold books and large incidental debts. Then, in March 1941, after an article about A.A. by Jack Alexander appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, sales soared and a second printing was ordered at once.
The book provided the name for a small movement that until then had been known simply as the Alcoholic Foundation, with but 100 members. Today, Alcoholics Anonymous has an estimated two million members worldwide with a presence in 180 countries. Additionally, its program of recovery serves as a model for many other 12 Step Fellowships.
The Big Book itself has opened the way to a life of comfortable sobriety for thousands of suffering alcoholics who otherwise might not have found help. It has offered convincing evidence to relatives and friends that compulsive drinkers can recover; and has furnished revealing insights to physicians, psychologists, members of the clergy and other professionals who work with alcoholics.
Previous recipients of milestone copies of the Big Book have included United States President Richard Nixon (the one millionth), U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph Califano (two millionth), the widow of Dr. John (Jack) L. Norris, Class A nonalcoholic trustee and former A.A.W.S. Board Chairman (15 millionth) and the Al-Anon Family Groups (twenty millionth).
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