The AA big book is the book itself Alcoholics Anonymous. Before AA was formed a number of people found a way they could get sober and stay sober, in effect recover from alcoholism.
One of the things they decided they needed to do was to write a book detailing their experiences, both of drinking and of recovery. This they did and published the book. For a number of reasons they decided to call the book Alcoholics Anonymous.
From this book the organisation took its name, and meetings that were happening began to call themselves groups or meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Why the big book
The description of the book as the big book came simply from the fact that the first edition was printed on very thick paper. This was to give the impression to the people who were paying for the book, recovering alcoholics, that they were getting real value for money.
What is the big book
The reason, or the main reason the book was written was to put in writing the experience of the early members of AA. At the time of writing there were two groups in America, one in New York and one in Akron. It was estimated that without some form of literature to spread the message it would take hundreds of years to even reach most major cities in the US. There was a degree of urgency that was needed, and it was agreed that a book was the best way of meeting this need.
The significance of that decision had ramifications that no one could have imagined. Most important perhaps was that it established the principle that AA is and was a body of experience. It set out that experience so that other people could benefit from it. It gave people the freedom to look at and understand AA’s experience, and then use that experience in any way they felt it could work for them.
This is hugely important. AA did not set out any creed or belief system, or try to convince or convert people about what they should or should not do, by way of drinking or staying sober. It really was a very courageous approach. Sadly, much of AA today does not necessarily see it as a body of experience. People often tend to fluctuate to various degrees of fundamentalism, and there are real concerns around issues of control and coercion.
Whatever the day-to-day practicalities are of AA, the fact that the book exists and was written, and continues to be used how it was written, reinforces this essential principle that AA is a body of experience.
This principle can quite literally be a lifesaver for a number of people. It should also ensure, however fragile, that AA continues to offer a degree of freedom, both from alcohol, but also from other people and their belief systems.