Video: Bill Wilson

Born behind a hotel bar in East Dorset, Vermont in 1894, Bill Wilson grew up with a severe drinking problem. In solving it for himself, he found a way to solve it for others, and he ultimately cofounded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. Although his name is not famous—he resisted any personal publicity while he was alive—Wilson, who died in 1971, was one of the most influential men of our time. Although he improved the world, he was not a saint. He responded to the difficulties of his life in ways that were profoundly human and flawed. His rugged, heart-breaking childhood, his unconventional fifty-three year marriage to Lois Wilson, his experiments with LSD and vitamin therapy, his friendship with Aldous Huxley, and his final longing for the whiskey he had so successfully forsworn are all part of his extraordinary life story.

Susan Cheever earned a B.A. degree from Brown University and has taught at Brown, Yale, Hunter College, Bennington, and elsewhere. A prolific author, she has written several biographies, including studies of Louisa May Alcott and the Bloomsbury Group, which included Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau. Other non-fiction works include Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction; a remembrance of her celebrated father, novelist John Cheever, titled Home Before Dark; and a personal memoir, Note Found In A Bottle. Also the author of five novels, she has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Newsday, among other publications. Her work has been nominated for a National Book Circle Award, and she is a Guggenheim Fellow. Of Cheever’s study of the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Judy Collins has written that it is “a stunning and moving book [that]…illuminates Bill Wilson’s brilliance, his eccentricity, and his humanism in a way that brings the whole movement to life.”