Episode 71: Drunks: An American History

This week’s podcast features an interview with Christopher M. Finan, author of Drunks: An American HistoryThe book provides a fascinating history of alcoholism and its treatment from the beginning of American History to the present day. I enjoyed the experience of learning about my fellow drunks, what they endured and how they learned to help each other and in so doing, change the way society views the problem of addiction. 

Christopher was inspired to write the book from his own family history. Alcoholism was a problem in his family for generations, and while he was earning his PhD., his academic adviser suggested that perhaps he write a book about the history of alcoholism. It would take some twenty years before he would write the book, publishing it only this year.

Drunks: An American History is a must read for people in recovery. As an AA member, I found a new sense of appreciation for the Fellowship that saved my life, and the hard work that went into crafting the 12 Steps, the 12 Traditions, and the AA service structure. 

The book is available in hardcover, paperback and audio at indiebound.org. I purchased both the hardcover and the audiobook. I typically don’t like audiobooks, but I found it most enjoyable. The narrator did a truly excellent job. The book is well-written. It had me from the introduction and held my attention all the way through the end. If you would like to read an excerpt from the book, please be sure to check out our story from last week, AA’s Declaration of Independence.

Thank you, Christopher for writing this book, and for sharing a chapter on our site, and thank you ever so much for being so generous with your time to sit down and talk to me for this podcast. I enjoyed the conversation, and I think our podcast audience will enjoy it as well.

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  1. Jean November 4, 2017 at 4:15 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the podcast and all you do. I’ve just discovered this site and other resources for a non god based AA and I’m so grateful for them. Loved hearing some of the history and will pursue the book in its entirety. Thanks again.

    • John S November 4, 2017 at 4:56 pm Reply

      Thanks for Listening Jean. I’m glad that the site and podcast have been helpful to you. 

  2. bob k November 1, 2017 at 9:55 am - Reply

    I became aware of Chris’s book about two months ago, and ordered it immediately. I wasn’t disappointed. Among other things, it’s very nicely written, the sort of storytelling that we in AA like so much. I also very much liked the multi-layered message of the Charles Adams account. In my book KEY PLAYERS IN AA HISTORY, Benjamin Rush, of those profiled, had the most tenuous connection to AA, BUT his is a strange and fascinating tale. I couldn’t NOT tell his tale.

    I have an above average knowledge of the subject matter, but I knew nothing of Handsome Lake, even though we share a first name.

    I think it is particularly important for secularists to read books like this that bring an intimate knowledge of AA history and pre-history. AA didn’t fall from the sky upon an America where there had never, ever been recovery from alcoholism. That’s the narrative of most fundamentalists, but it just isn’t true. AA’s notion of gathering together for mutual support is not a new one – Keeley League, Washingtonians, Red-ribbon clubs, etc. The Jacoby Club of Boston even had sponsors. The Washingtonians even had a version of AlAnon. The medical community had limited success, but not zero success.

    Drunks got sober. These groups lacked the equivalent of the 12 Traditions, and mostly dissolved in wrangling over outside issues.

    Great book!! Fascinating subject matter.

    • John S November 1, 2017 at 6:12 pm Reply

      Thank you, Bob for your comment. I have always loved history and early  in my recovery, I read all of the AAWS books, “Dr. Bob and the Good Old Timers”, “Pass it On”, and “AA Comes of Age.” I have also read your book, “Key Players” and all the great history articles on AA Agnostica and here. Yet for some reason, it seems that it has only just hit me after reading Christopher’s book how important it is to my recovery to have an understanding of all the history that preceded AA.

      I am in awe of Alcoholics Anonymous when you look at this Fellowship in context of all that came before us. You are right, there is nothing new with what we are doing, yet we have outlived all those who came before us and we are still a force for good.

      I saw the good work of AA at our We Agnostics meeting last night. We had three newcomers and I watched them as they expressed relief at finally having hope. That’s something that I would never want to miss. I also have the honor of serving AA at our Area Assembly and at our District and I’ve met some really amazing people who really care about AA and I have the utmost respect for them.

      So, I know we get our share of criticism, but even our critics stand on our shoulders. Almost every recovery group that exists today has spun off from AA in some way.

      Reading this book and understanding the entire journey has given me a new perspective and a lot of gratitude not only for being sober,but being sober in Alcoholics Anonymous.

      • bob k November 2, 2017 at 4:33 pm Reply

        We are nearing the 4 year anniversary of Whitby Freethinkers. A lot have come and gone who would have benefited by staying, but we have a core who’ve stayed, and our secular meeting has played a big part in their sobriety. We have 1, 2 and 3 year people.

        For the group anniversary, we’ve decided to get Larry K. to speak. If he isn’t available, we’ll go with Satan.

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