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Books, Journals, New Media
September 22/29, 2004

Bill Wilson

Author Affiliations

Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor.

JAMA. 2004;292(12):1495-1496. doi:10.1001/jama.292.12.1495

Physicians frequently advise patients with a drinking problem to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Many physicians, however, have only a vague knowledge of AA's methods and origins. This brief, well-written book painlessly provides interested readers, including patients and their doctors, an understanding of the principles and history of AA through an examination of the life of its cofounder Bill Wilson.

Susan Cheever, who has written previously about her own successful struggles with alcoholism, begins her biography by tracing Wilson's turn-of-the-last-century boyhood, when he struggled with an unstable family while immersed in the values and natural beauty of rural Vermont. Overcoming early family-inflicted traumas by drawing upon his innate tenacity and talent, Wilson achieved a measure of success and happiness by late adolescence and realistically looked forward to a bright future. This optimism ended abruptly with the unexpected death of his first love and ushered in what was to be a lifetime series of deep depressions. As this first depressive episode ended, an 18-year period of alcoholism began, which Wilson initially controlled while establishing a successful marriage and business. The control was predictably brief, and eventually his alcoholism consumed everything of importance to him except his marriage, which survived only because of his wife's persistent (and largely unexplained) loyalty.

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