Synopses & Reviews
In this thoroughly researched and groundbreaking biography of Bill Wilson, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, acclaimed author Susan Cheever creates a remarkably human portrait of a man whose life and work both influenced and saved the lives of millions of people. Drawn from personal letters and diaries, records in a variety of archives, and hundreds of interviews, this definitive biography is the first fully documented account of Bill Wilson's life story.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a worldwide organization that since 1935 has helped people break free from the destructive influence of intoxicating and addictive substances. This great wave of comfort and help that has covered the world had its beginning in one man, born shortly before the start of the twentieth century. Utilizing exhaustive research, Cheever traces Bill Wilson's life beginning with his birth in a small town in Vermont, where, following the breakup of his parents' marriage, he was raised primarily by his grandparents. Handsome and intelligent, with a wit and charm that both women and men responded to, he seemed at the outset to be capable of achieving anything he wanted.
Wilson, however, also suffered from deep-seated insecurity, and once he was away from the provincial Vermont town, he found that alcohol helped relieve his self-doubts and brought out the charm and wit that had made him a favorite in school.
"Help" eventually turned to dependence, and years after his first beer consumed at a Newport, Rhode Island, dinner party Bill Wilson finally had to come to terms with the fact that, while he loved the way alcohol made him feel, his life was spiraling out of control. Through a painful process of trial and error, using a blend of experiences, ideas, and medical knowledge gained through several hospitalizations, he was able to stop drinking. A few months later, when he met Dr. Robert Smith of Akron, Ohio, and was able to help him stop drinking also, Alcoholics Anonymous was born. Each man found in the other the support he needed to overcome the hold alcohol had on them. Together they discovered the power they had to help other alcoholics.
Success did not come overnight, however, and as Cheever compellingly relates, Wilson had many struggles in a life fraught with controversies, including experiments with LSD and an unconventional fifty-three-year marriage.
As one of the most influential and important thinkers of the twentieth century, Bill Wilson changed the way our society deals with addiction, and his ideas in turn have benefited countless individuals and their families. His life was complex, and in Susan Cheever's fascinating biography, he emerges as a man of great passion and courage; it is a story fully told for the first time.
"Cheever brings authority on alcoholism as well as considerable skills as a researcher and writer to this unblinking biography of the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous." Booklist
"Although the compression of so much material disserves Cheever's intentions, the resulting lumpiness is oddly consistent with Wilson's life and character." Publishers Weekly
"If only a novel, My Name Is Bill, in terms of memorable characters and poignant details, would be quite a success. As the biography of one of the most humane and beneficial Americans who ever lived, it is a national treasure." Kurt Vonnegut
"Susan Cheever has written a stunning and moving book about the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous....I couldn't put it down. Anyone who is interested in Alcoholics Anonymous or in humanity should read this book!" Judy Collins
"Susan Cheever's final judgement is unblinking but forgiving: 'Bill Wilson never held himself up as a model: he only hoped to help other people by sharing his own experience, strength and hope. He insisted again and again that he was just an ordinary man'. An ordinary man who nonetheless did one extraordinary thing." John Sutherland, The Times Literary Supplement (read the entire Times Literary Supplement review)
The definitive biography of Bill Wilson, a cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, is drawn from exclusive access to his personal letters and diaries, documents in the organization's archives, and hundreds of interviews.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -293) and index.
About the Author
is the bestselling author of eleven previous books, including five novels and the memoirs Note Found in a Bottle
and Home Before Dark.
Her work has been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Boston Globe
Winship Medal. She is a Guggenheim Fellow, a member of the Corporation of Yaddo, and a member of the Author's Guild Council. She writes a weekly column for Newsday
and teaches in the Bennington College M.F.A. program. She lives in New York City with her family.
Table of Contents
Part One: A Rural Childhood
1. The Wilson House
2. East Dorset
3. The Wilson Family and the Griffith Family
4. Dorset Pond
5. The Griffith House
6. The State of Vermont
7. Mark Whalon
8. Mount Aeolus
9. Burr and Burton
10. Bertha Bamford
11. Lois Burnham
12. New York City
13. New Bedford and the First Drink
Part Two: Drinking
15. The Edison Test
17. Motorcycle Hobos
18. Manchester Airport
20. Towns Hospital
Part Three: Alcoholics Anonymous
21. The Oxford Group
22. Akron, Ohio
23. 182 Clinton Street
24. Not Maximum
25. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
26. Stepping Stones
27. 334 1/2 West 24th Street
28. Trabuco College
30. Our Common Welfare Should Come First
31. Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith
Part Four: Life After A.A.
32. The Spook Room
33. St. Louis, Missouri
34. Marty Mann
35. 526 Bedford Road
36. The Family Afterward
37. Carl Jung
Appendix: The Twelve Steps and The Twelve Traditions