Archive for Bill Wilson

My Name Is Bill by Susan Cheever

Posted in books with tags , , , , , , on March 25, 2010 by Editors

As the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, there are many accounts of Bill Wilson’s life. I’ve avoided them because they seem like the worst kind nonfiction—heavily biased narratives geared to make you think well of the person in question. Why waste your time?

But Susan Cheever’s biography of Bill Wilson isn’t that kind. She clearly thinks highly of the man, yet she doesn’t let that stop her from exploring his life. A hopeless alcoholic by the time he had reached middle age, Wilson married out of his class and never amounted to much in the corporate or professional worlds. His claim to fame is overcoming his alcoholism and laying the ground work for the entire 12-Step movement, a network of fellowships that offer relief for all sorts of dependency problems.

Cheever is the daughter of John Cheever and a respected author in her own right. She deftly brings to life early twentieth century Vermont and New York City. Understanding the mores helps you grasp the enormity of the task Wilson grappled with co-founding AA. He comes across as passionate and dedicated, but also deeply troubled and not just during his adventures with drinking. Cheever postulates about various marital infidelities during his fifty some year marriage, offering what little evidence she can find. More striking, Wilson apparently repeatedly asked for a whiskey on his death bed, during his last few days of life. Wilson was denied, but you won’t be: This biography is no testimonial.

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