Pass it On – The Official Biography of Bill Wilson

‘Pass it On’ – Bill Wilson’s official AA Biography

Not long after I finished doing the 12 Steps, my sponsor got me to me to read AA Comes of Age before I started sponsoring others. The idea was that if I read an AA history book, I would have some idea of the context in which the Big Book and Steps were written. This would then help to make me a more effective sponsor.

Having only recently discovered the wonder that was AA, I was keen to read the other AA history books as well. I recall that not long after reading AA Comes of Age I began reading Pass it On, Bill W’s biography. I had found AA Comes of Age a more general history made up of transcribed conference talks – quite difficult going at times. But I found Pass it On much more engrossing!

Pass it On was also published by AA. It is the official biography of Bill W published in 1984, 13 years after his death, and was put together by a professional writer. It is in a more modern style than AA Comes of Age, being published almost 30 years later.

I had not realised what an amazing person Bill W was. It was not until years after reading it that I heard that USA’s massive Time magazine recognised Bill W as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century (amongst such figures as Einstein, Roosevelt and Ghandi).

I remember what a great read the book was – I didn’t find it hard going at all. I found Bill’s drive for success fascinating. And then his drive to make AA a success – tempered by his trust in God – was compulsive reading for me. I was a bit shocked when I read about Bill using LSD, but this was before it became illegal and many doctors and scientists where taking it seriously as a possible helpful psychiatric drug.

My sponsor’s sponsor David mentioned to me how Aldous Huxley had called Bill Wilson ‘the greatest social architect of the 20th century.’ Now at the time I thought I was a bit of literary bod, and Aldous Huxley was one of my heroes. He wrote the famous novel Brave New World and ‘by the end of his life Huxley was widely acknowledged as one of the pre-eminent intellectuals of his time’. I looked more closely at the dust cover of the book and saw Huxley’s quote on there. It gave me a new perspective on what Bill had achieved.

I believe Huxley was referring to the 12 Traditions, which seem so obvious to us because we see them at the front of the meeting, or hear topic shares about them all the time. However when they were created they were revolutionary. Pass it On details Bill’s long struggle to get AA to understand the need for the 12 Traditions. It is much more interesting to read about the 12 Traditions and the 12 Concepts from Bill’s point of view: what they meant to him personally, how he battled for them, became unpopular and got slagged off for repeatedly trying to get AAs to accept them. He was a right controller!

So riveting did I find this book, that when I came to read Dr Bob and the Good Old-timers – the other of the 3 AA history books – I found it a little tame!  My sponsor said the Dr Bob book was his favourite of the two, and when I returned to it many years later, I found it contained huge riches for me further into sobriety, if not the excitement and adrenaline of Bill’s biography.

I will never forget what it was like to read Pass it On for the first time. It was during my first year of sobriety. I was buzzing with enthusiasm for this new life and this organisation that had miraculously and freely given it to me. From the mid-1930s in the USA, Bill’s unstinting work to protect and prepare AA, no matter how unpopular it made him, meant the programme was there for me when I was ready for someone to ‘Pass it On’.

                                           Alexis K, Road to Recovery, Plymouth