Why I Abridged a Self-Help Masterpiece

Is it Heresy to Create a Digest-Sized Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous? Not if it Saves Lives.

Mitch Horowitz
5 min readSep 15, 2017

The following is my introduction to a new abridgment of the original 1939 edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, published by Gildan Audio.

You are about to encounter an abridgment of probably the greatest work of modern self-help. That Alcoholics Anonymous has saved and revitalized countless lives since its initial publication in 1939 does not require excessive restatement here. More important is that some readers who have experienced the power of this book would understandably chafe at the notion of its abridgment. To some, Alcoholics Anonymous is a work of almost Scriptural significance, and condensing it can seem like an act of heresy, if not cynicism.

I can promise you that my motive is neither. As a writer, historian, and seeker, I approach this book on bended knee, and with deepest gratitude. I consider it the most effective program of spiritual self-help of the past hundred years, and perhaps beyond. My intent in condensing this work is not to replace or sidestep the complete version of the “Big Book,” which I encourage you to read. My aim, rather, is to supply a resource for people who may be unready to dive into the Big Book but can be induced by this shorter and equally faithful journey. This condensed edition is also for veterans of the Big Book who wish to review or reencounter its core points. Whatever brings you to this edition, you can experience its ideas in about an hour of reading or listening. Is the length of a lunch break, or a morning commute, too much to dedicate to a philosophy of self-development that can change everything for you, or for someone you love?

Alcoholics Anonymous was written for alcoholics and their loved ones — but it is not for them alone. As readers and self-improvers have repeatedly discovered, the “twelve steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous, which are described in chapter four, are a blueprint that can be applied to virtually life-depleting habit or compulsion, such as anger, gambling, drugs, debt-spending, or chronic overeating. Although the book was written by and for those who struggle with alcohol, nearly any term or problem, like the ones I just named, can be substituted wherever the word…

Mitch Horowitz

"Treats esoteric ideas & movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness"-Washington Post | PEN Award-winning historian | Censored in China