ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
CAREER: Corporate communications specialist and author.
Bill W.: A Biography of Alcoholics AnonymousCofounder Bill Wilson, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.
SIDELIGHTS: A corporate communications professional, Francis Hartigan is the authorized biographer of Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) cofounder Bill Wilson. Hartigan first became intrigued with Wilson when one of Hartigan's friends joined AA around 1980 and began to relate anecdotes about the complex and flawed Wilson from people who had known him. Hartigan became the personal secretary to Wilson's widow, Lois, in 1983 and spent several days a week with the then ninety-two-year-old woman at the Wilsons' home called Stepping Stones. Hartigan's relationship with Lois Wilson, his meetings with many of the older members of AA who had known or met Wilson, and his total access to Wilson's papers and letters formed the basis for his resulting biography, Bill W.: A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson.
In his story of the man behind the icon, Hartigan provides a picture of a person whose devotion to AA and organizational genius helped make the organization one of the most successful addiction-recovery programs in the world. At the same time, the author fleshes out Wilson's dark side, which included an ongoing battle with depression, numerous extramarital affairs, and experimentation with the hallucinogen LSD.
In his book, Hartigan recounts many of the well-known stories about Wilson, including Wilson's slide into devastating alcoholism and the night that changed his life forever. On November 11, 1934, Wilson made his fourth attempt to dry out and spent a harrowing first night undergoing withdrawal in a hospital room. According to Wilson, when he demanded that God show Himself, the room filled with light and Wilson had a vision of himself on top of a mountain where a wind came and blew right threw him. Wilson never took another drink. Instead, he turned his life towards helping other alcoholics and, with physician and alcoholic Bob Smith, established AA. Wilson created AA's famous twelve-step program and is largely credited with changing the public perception of alcoholism as a "sin" to a view of overdrinking as a disease that deserves medical help and counseling. While Wilson successfully overcame his alcoholism, Hartigan also reveals the life of a man who still faced many other demons and addictions and who often scandalized members of his own organization. For example, friends and others in the AA organization eventually set up a committee to help prevent Wilson from engaging in extramarital affairs. In addition to his womanizing and battles with depression, Wilson remained addicted to smoking, a habit that eventually led to his death from emphysema and pneumonia in 1971.
A contributor to Publishers Weekly called Hartigan's biography of Wilson "admiring without being hagiographic." Boston Globe staff writer Ellen Clegg praised the biography as well: "Although Hartigan is no stylist, his book approaches Wilson's life with refreshing candor. There's no idol worship here." Writing in the Times Union of Albany, New York, Bill Williams found that Hartigan's biography had the "ring of an incomplete story" and thought the author should have gone into more depth about how Wilson's philosophies concerning alcoholism affected society. Nevertheless, Williams noted, "Hartigan's account of the personal devastation and of Wilson's numerous failed attempts to stop drinking should resonate with anyone battling an addiction."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 2000, William Beatty, review of Bill W.: A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson, p. 1059.
Boston Globe, April 7, 2000, Ellen Clegg, review of Bill W., p. D18.
Library Journal, February 1, 2000, Randall M. Miller, review of Bill W., p. 96.
Publishers Weekly, February 28, 2000, review of BillW., p. 77.
Times Union (Albany, NY), May 28, 2000, Bill Williams, review of Bill W., p. J4.
Wisconsin State Journal, March 5, 2000, review of Bill W., p. 3F.*