Books that Shaped America

The Interior of the Library of Congress

This week’s post is a guest post by Steve Devlin, a recovery coach from Philadelphia PA.

Recently,  I was in Washington, D.C. for two days. It was a gorgeous day with temperatures almost getting to 60 degrees and the sun shining brightly. A perfect day to walk and see the sights. I have been blessed to visit Washington many times so finding new museums or monuments to visit is not easy. I have walked along the National Mall and visited every sight from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capital. I have walked around Arlington National Cemetery and The White House. I was determined to go someplace new on this visit.

Out of all the places I have wandered I have never been to either the U.S. Supreme Court of the Library of Congress. So, off I went on my adventure on a lovely day in mid-December. My initial interest in going to the Library of Congress was to see an exhibit of the actual 6,487 books which Thomas Jefferson donated in 1815 to replace the original library which was destroyed in the War of 1812. It was very cool to his collection, but cooler still was an exhibit called Books That Shaped America. In 2012 the Library of Congress started a project that first identified 88 books by American authors. Then they opened it up to voting. The top 25 vote getters were designated as the books which had a profound impact on American life.

As you might expect these 25 books looked like the books you would read in high school or college. For me the real surprise was #10 on the list. Sitting right between two Nobel Prize winning authors was the A.A. Big Book. This 1939 first edition was described as “the famous 12-step program for stopping addiction has sold more than 30 million copies. Millions of men and women worldwide have turned to the program co-founded by Bill W and Dr. Bob to recover from alcoholism. The ‘Big Book’ as it is known spawned similar programs for other forms of addiction.”

My first reaction to seeing The Big Book was complete surprise. I almost yelled “That’s my book.” While other books on display broadened my education, and added pieces to my life, no other book as changed my life so profoundly. It was the source of hope when I was hopeless and provided a guide out of the darkness of my addiction. I should use the present tense here. This book is a part of my daily life. When I feel confused about choices, I remember my 4th step. When I wonder if I need to apologize for a harmful word or act, I know how to make amends. And when I wonder about the purpose of my life, I remember the 12th step.

A great novel is good to read, but in the end, it goes back on the shelf to collect dust. The Big Book is my guide to life. It is part of me and it is no wonder that I feel it is “my” book. The voices in it could be my own, because it was written by two people experiencing the horrors of addiction and the miracles of recovery, one day at a time, one step at a time, and one page at a time. It is my favorite book because it continues to shape my life.

May I ask you- How has The Big Book shaped your life?

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