Key Players in AA History

Review by Roger C.

Our friend, bob k, has written an exceptional book.

But before we have a look at Key Players in AA History, let’s back up just a little bit.

Bob first starting writing on AA Agnostica a little over three years ago, in December, 2011. He quickly became something of an expert on we heathens in AA. Indeed, one of his stories, which is republished in Don’t Tell, recounts how he blustered his way into agnostic AA meetings in Toronto in order to find out what they were all about. Of course he was taking some risks in doing that. As he wrote:

Disregarding a tremendous amount of personal danger, I was able to infiltrate Toronto’s two agnostic AA groups, starting with the second anniversary party of Beyond Belief… I must report that, as a group, they were quite ordinary in appearance, albeit the “nerd quotient” was undeniably above the norm.

Of course, as you may already have guessed, the whole experience went bad and, well, he ended up being tortured and water-boarded. You can read the whole tragic tale right here: Heathens, Spies, Websites, Water-boarding & Carrot Cake.

After he recovered, bob began to write stories about the early history of AA and about some of the people who had been a part of defining the early elements of our fellowship.

These stories were mightily well received and appreciated. Let us provide you with just one example. Back in March of last year, bob wrote Dr. Bob, AA Co-founder – Part One. Here are just a few of the comments about that story:

I applaud you bob k for shedding so much needed light and insight on this important part of AA history. Another awesome piece of literature, a very powerful, clear and heart warming account of the part played by Dr. Bob Smith.

Very well written… I love pieces like this…Thank you bob k.

Excellent history of the “other” founder of AA. This article is a very interesting history of Dr. Bob’s early life and the times in which he lived… It is instructive and helpful to read AA history… Thanks so much for this article.

Excellent piece Bob. Very interesting. Thank you for putting the work in!

What a fantastic read… It’s so interesting to read about our founders and Dr. Bob’s story is one many of us can relate to. Thank you for all your insight bob k.

Okay, let’s stop there. I’m sure you get the picture. This has been the standard response to bob’s writing on AA Agnostica.

And these comments very much apply to bob’s writing in his wonderful book, Key Players in AA History.

As you will see below, there are 32 chapters in the book. Even the most consistent and long-standing of AA Agnostica fans will be delighted to discover that there are 16 chapters in the book that have never before been published, here or elsewhere. Organized in six sections and 32 chapters, the book is a treasure. Each chapter is complete on its own. You can easily read a chapter in one sitting and move on to the next or jump to a completely new section.

Every chapter is well researched, much of it is fascinating, and all of it is written in an enjoyable and easily readable style.

What follows are three sections. The table of contents, a Foreword by Ernie Kurtz and Bill White, and information on how to get your own paperback or eBook copy of Key Players in AA History.

Explore. Enjoy.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Ernest Kurtz and William L. White


Chapter 1 Bill Wilson’s Vermont Roots (Prequel to a Prequel)
Chapter 2 Young Bill Wilson (Prequel to Bill’s Story)
Chapter 3 The LSD Experiments
Chapter 4 Bill and Rumors of Other Women
Chapter 5 Doctor Bob – Part One (1879-1935)
Chapter 6 Doctor Bob – Part Two (1935-1950)


Chapter 7 Dr. Benjamin Rush
Chapter 8 The Washingtonian Society
Chapter 9 What is “New Thought”?
Chapter 10 Jerry McAuley and The Water Street Mission
Chapter 11 20th Century Influences on AA
Chapter 12 Charles Towns
Chapter 13 Frank Buchman and The Oxford Group
Chapter 14 Sam Shoemaker


Chapter 15 William James
Chapter 16 Carl Jung
Chapter 17 William D. Silkworth


Chapter 18 Rowland Hazard
Chapter 19 Ebby Thacher
Chapter 20 Henry Parkhurst
Chapter 21 Clarence Snyder
Chapter 22 Jim Burwell
Chapter 23 Richmond Walker


Chapter 24 Lois Wilson
Chapter 25 Anne Ripley Smith
Chapter 26 Florence R.
Chapter 27 Sylvia K.
Chapter 28 Marty Mann and the Early Women of AA
Chapter 29 Henrietta Seiberling


Chapter 30 Willard Richardson and the Rockefellers
Chapter 31 Selling AA – Early Publicity
Chapter 32 Anonymity in the 21st Century


Story and storytelling lie at the very heart of Alcoholics Anonymous. AA’s basic text and voices within AA meetings across the globe “disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.” From the catalytic meeting between two desperate men in the mid-1930s to today’s growing varieties of AA experience, the history of AA is a story about stories and the healing power of mutual storytelling. Anyone wishing to truly understand AA must look first, not to ideas, techniques, or studies, but to stories.

As historians of AA and other recovery mutual aid societies, we have been particularly drawn to the stories of those who played critical roles in the birth and early history of AA, for it is in those stories that we find what distinguishes AA from recovery mutual aid societies that went before but failed to thrive and what distinguishes AA from newer groups that have followed in the wake of AA’s worldwide growth. Also of interest to us is why the stories of these early AA figures continue to hold such attraction among rank and file AA members. We suspect such fascination comes from a powerful sense of continued identification – that the stories of AA’s founding generation continue to be mirrored in the lives of contemporary AA members. Such interest surely also emanates from a powerful sense of gratitude for a fellowship that so many continue to find life-saving and live-transforming.

Interest is growing in the early history of AA, as evidenced by the growing number of recent biographies of those who played important roles within this history – from multiple biographies of AA co-founder Bill Wilson to biographies of early AA members (e.g., Marty Mann, Clarence Snyder) and non-alcoholics who played critical roles in the early development of AA (e.g., Dr. William Silkworth, Sister Ignatia Gavin, Lois Wilson). We expect this insatiable fascination with AA history to continue unabated far into the future.

In spite of the growing body of literature on AA history, lacking to date has been a collection of brief profiles of these important figures within a single text. That void is now filled by Key Players in AA History by Bob K., which offers an engaging window into the lives and times of AA predecessors, AA founders, early AA members (including women pioneers within AA), and the professionals who stood with AA in its early years. Here again is the essence of AA conveyed, as it so often is, in story.

The profiles crafted by Bob K. are drawn from multiple sources and presented in an engaging manner accessible to all those interested in the history of AA.  So let the stories begin.

Ernest Kurtz, Author, Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous
William White, Author, Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America

A second edition of Key Players in AA History was published in February 2023. It now has 40 chapters rather than 32!

An excellent book, available at all Amazons worldwide. Here’s a link to the Amazon USA.

Of course, it’s also available as an eBook. Key Players in AA History is available in a number of formats at the BookBaby BookShop.

13 Responses

  1. John M. says:

    Congratulations, Bob. Great service to AA as Ernie and Bill acknowledge and, for many of us, a fun read.

  2. bob k says:

    WOW!! Some people bought some books today!!


    “Key Players in AA History” – Number 1 in Alcoholism Recovery.

    Number 4 in Essay Collections!!

  3. Sam M says:

    Looking forward to reading this. Quite the endorsement from the preeminent Kurtz!

    On a side note: Roger, at the end of this morning’s post where you’ve listed the 5 other books published by aaagnostica, you have the title of the 5th book as “Don’t Tell: Stories and Essays by Agnostics and Atheists in AA” whereas on the thumbnail on the site above on the right it’s “Do Tell! Stories by Atheists & Agnostics..”

    Given you’re listed as the editor of both, I’m assuming these are the same book? The title wording is thus unintentionally different: ‘Do’ vs ‘Don’t’, switching order of atheist/agnostics, ‘&’ vs. ‘and’, etc.

    Just wanted to clarify for any of us inclined towards the OCD spectrum of syntax observation. Also, for purposes of searching on Amazon or other sites to purchase the book it might avoid some confusion.

    • Roger says:

      Hi Sam. AA Agnostica published Don’t Tell: Stories and Essays by Agnostics and Essays in AA in April 2014. We are now working on a second book, a follow-up, that will be called Do Tell! Stories by Atheists and Agnostics in AA. We expect to publish it in June of this year. Two separate books. The second one, however, will be much more focused on personal stories of “what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now”. We are still accepting submissions for the second book, but the cut-off for that is coming soon.

      Do and Don't

  4. Tommy H says:

    It’s on my list!

  5. Joe C. says:

    Buy two, if you’re thinking of getting it; half way through you’re going to think, “So-and-so would love this”. I’ve enjoyed all of these essays.

    I have some idea of the tonne of work devoted to this task. For this, we are all indebted to you, Bob (hence, buy two copies, everyone). But it’s the writing style that makes you a unique historian. Like the Olsmobile commercial, “This isn’t your dad’s Ols,” your personality isn’t stricken from the pages. To be both critical and humorous without being cynical, this is is a way that few master. Joseph Campbell comes to mind and our great, late friend Ernie Kurtz always embraced the awe of our seemingly darkest moments and quirks. How did he not get sick of our petty ways after all these years?

    And Bob, get this in the Libraries. I expect is should be well received in both public and academic “places of learning.”

  6. Lech says:

    I love the waterboarding experience!

  7. Thomas B. says:

    So looking forward, Bob, to savoring the stories you weave so elegantly when the iBook version is available. To understand where we are today, it is so important to look back at where we have been. As depressed as I sometimes become by the resurgence of “Akron-style AA” only in many parts of North America, this book I’m sure will help us who are wAAfts be able to bolster our understanding of AA’s history to more effectively put fingers in the dikes of Christian evangelical and pietistic fundamentalism within AA.

    • bob k says:

      AA history, and moreso “pre-history” is absolutely the friend of the secularist. My book points out numerous clear-cut examples of the efficacy of human power. There are also some stories of “deep and effective spiritual experiences” followed by one HELL of a lot of drinking.

      Fundamentalists aren’t going to appreciate this book, and at some point, they will be on Amazon furnishing ZERO star reviews. In the name of the cause, I hope some of you who enjoy the book will take a few minutes to write a brief review, and possibly tick off as “helpful” the other positive critiques.

      Many thanks.

      • Thomas B. says:

        Bob, in so many ways, you, much more deeply, and I have been trudging some of the same roads to happy history (pun intended) of late — in my article on the history of AA sponsorship scheduled for next Sunday, I stress the human power at play when Ebby got sober and brought the message to Bill who took the message to Dr. Bob, who with Bill took the message to AA #3 and so on down the past 80 almost years to millions of alcoholics around the world, many with radically different faiths than the predominant Christian faith in North America to include lots of us with no faith at all.

      • bob k says:

        Thomas, I look forward to the sponsorship essay.

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