The Dr. Harry Fosdick review of the Big Book

Harry-Emerson-FosdickBelow is the text of the Dr. Harry Fosdick review which is mentioned  in the ‘Big Book’ – Alcoholics Anonymous in the Foreword to the Second Edtion and Appendix V.


Works Publishing Company
Church Street P.0. Box 657
New York City…400pp….



This extraordinary book deserves the careful attention of anyone interested in the problem of alcoholism. Whether as victims, friends of victims, physicians, clergymen, psychiatrists or social workers there are many such, and this book will give them, as no other treatise known to this reviewer will, an inside view of the problem which the alcoholic faces. Gothic cathedral windows are not the only things which can be truly seen only from within. Alcoholism is another. All outside views are clouded and unsure. Only one who has been an alcoholic and who has escaped the thraldom can interpret the experience.

This book represents the pooled experience of one hundred men and women who have been victims of alcoholism — many of them declared hopeless by the experts — and who have won their freedom and recovered their sanity and self-control. Their stories are detailed and circumstantial, packed with human interest. In America today the disease of alcoholism is increasing. Liquor has been an easy escape from depression. As an English officer in India, reproved for his excessive drinking, lifting his glass and said, “this is the swiftest road out of India,” so many Americans have been using hard liquor as a means of flight from their troubles until to their dismay they discover that, free to begin, they are not free to stop. One hundred men and women in this volume, report their experience of enslavement and then of liberation.

The book is not in the least sensational. It is notable for its sanity, restraint, and freedom from over-emphasis and fanaticism. It is a sober, careful, tolerant, sympathetic treatment of the alcoholic’s problem and of the successful techniques by which its co-authors have won their freedom. The group sponsoring the book began with two or three ex-alcoholics, who discovered one another through a kindred experience. From this personal kinship a movement started, ex-alcoholic working for alcoholic without fanfare or advertisement, and the movement has spread from one city to another. This book presents the practical experience of this group and describes the methods they employ.

The core of their whole procedure is religious. They are convinced that for the hopeless alcoholic there is only one way out – the expulsion of his obsession by a Power Greater Than Himself. Let it be said at once that there is nothing partisan or sectarian about this religious experience. Agnostics and atheists, along with Catholics, Jews and Protestants, tell their story of discovering the Power Greater Than Themselves. “WHO ARE YOU TO SAY THAT THERE IS NO GOD,” one atheist in this group heard a voice say when, hospitalized for alcoholism, he faced the utter hopelessness of his condition. Nowhere is the tolerance and open-mindedness of the book more evident than in its treatment of this central matter on which the cure of all these men and women has depended.

They are not partisans of and particular form of organized religion, although they strongly recommend that some religious fellowship be found by their participants. By religion they mean an experience which they personally know and which has saved them from their slavery, when psychiatry and medicine had failed They agree that each man must have his own way of conceiving God, but of God Himself they are utterly sure, and their stories of victory in consequence are a notable addition to William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience.”

Although the book has the accent of reality and is written with unusual intelligence and skill, humour and modesty mitigating what could easily have been a strident and harrowing tale.

– Harry Emerson Fosdick

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