Twenty-Four Hours A Day, written by Richmond Walker, is a book that offers daily thoughts, meditations and prayers to help recovering alcoholics live a clean and sober life. It is often referred to as "the little black book."
The three most published A.A. authors are Bill W., Richmond Walker, and Ralph Pfau, in that order. Ralph, who lived in Indianapolis, became in 1943 the first Roman Catholic priest to get sober in A.A., and under the pen name "Father John Doe," wrote the fourteen Golden Books© along with three other books, all of them still in print and read by A.A. people today. Richmond Walker got sober in Boston in May 1942, and later moved down to Daytona Beach in Florida, where in 1948 he published Twenty-Four Hours a Day©, which became the great meditational book of early A.A. from that point on.
The old timers in my part of the country say without hesitation that they got sober by using two books: the Big Book and Richmond Walker's Twenty-Four Hour book. Phrases and topical advice from both books are sprinkled throughout everything they say when they talk about their own experience of the program, and when they give advice to newcomers. A.A. people carried the little black book with them everywhere they went. It was always considered permissible to read from the Twenty-Four Hour book during A.A. meetings, and to base the discussion on a topic from that book. By 1959, it had sold over 80,000 copies, which means, given the number of people in the program at that time, that roughly fifty percent of the A.A. members owned their own copies, and most of the rest had attended meetings where it was read from or used. As of 1994 (the latest figures which I have), it had sold six and a half million copies.
In the Big Book, the eleventh step said "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out." But there were only a handful of extremely short prayers in the Big Book to use as examples, and even if one added the Lord's Prayer and the Serenity Prayer water thermos jug, this was still an unworkably short list. Early A.A. people often used the Methodist meditational book called the Upper Room©, and listened to the radio broadcasts of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, but they had nothing of their own. The traditional western books on spirituality and meditation were, most of them, tied to the life of the medieval monasteries and convents and religious orders, and were not tailored to people who were married and had jobs in the secular world, nor were they, most of them, designed to deal with people who had suffered the kinds of trauma, violence, internal torment, and degradation which many alcoholics had experienced. There was an acute and desperate need for something which would teach recovering alcoholics how to pray effectively, and how to meditate on the spirit of the twelve steps.
So Rich produced a little book which I myself would put on my short list of the world's ten or fifteen greatest spiritual classics—and I include eastern as well as western writings in my assessment. I have been a scholar and a professional in this field for forty years now, and I have seen an incredible number of people make far more spiritual progress in their own lives by meditating daily on that little book, and accomplish this far more quickly, than with any other spiritual work I know of.
Rich talked in his lead (Ld 24) about writing the Twenty-Four Hour© book in 1948 (see note 8). It has a page for each day of the year, with each page divided into three sections. The large print section at the top is called the Thought for the Day: some of this material was adapted by him from a work he wrote earlier, called For Drunks Only, and he also included an extended selection of excerpts from the Big Book as part of the large-print section for one period of the year. The section in smaller print that followed was called the Meditation for the Day, and then at the very bottom of the page was a short Prayer for the Day.
In 1952, while looking for educational materials for alcoholics, Hazelden President Pat Butler came across a small volume titled Twenty-Four Hours A Day. The author, Richmond Walker of Daytona Beach, Florida, was publishing, selling, and distributing the volume himself. Butler offered to assume publication and distribution of the work. Walker agreed after the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous showed no interest in the undertaking. In May 1954, Hazelden purchased the rights to Twenty-Four Hours A Day. Close to 5,000 copies were sold in the first year. Today, Twenty-Four Hours a Day has sold over eight million copies in 30 countries and is a staple of many twelve-step groups.
The second most popular A.A. author in total book sales, second only to Bill W. himself, was Richmond Walker. He was a man from the Boston area who managed to get sober in 1939 in the old Oxford Group. There was no AA group in Boston yet at that time. He stayed sober in the Oxford Group for two and a half years, before going back to drinking in 1941. After a year and a half of drinking, he joined the newly founded Boston AA group in May 1942, and finally found lasting sobriety there, never to drink again for the rest of his life. Rich died on Mar. 25, 1965 (72 years old) with 22 years of sobriety in AA.
He originally wrote this material on small cards which he carried in his pocket, to aid him in his own sobriety. In 1948, he put it together in the little meditation book called "Twenty-Four Hours a Day, " at the request of the AA group in Daytona Beach, Florida, which they printed on the printing press at the county courthouse and began distributing all over the country under the sponsorship of their A.A. group. For many years it was the basic meditation book for all A.A.'s.
The book sold over 80,000 copies during the first ten years alone, which means that over 10,000 copies a year were eventually having to be packaged and shipped out year after year, just to keep up with the demand. It did not take long for Rich to become totally overwhelmed by the task. In 1953, he asked the New York A.A. office if they would take over this job, but his request was turned down.
In their defense, New York was desperately short on money, staff, and space; they also already had their hands full with the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, which came out in April of that same year. They only just barely managed to cobble together a financial deal to get that vital book published.
Hazelden offered to publish and distribute the book in 1954. It is still widely used by A.A. members and groups today, with over eight million copies sold.
The little book became the second most popular book in AA history (exceeded only by the Big Book). It explained how to carry out the eleventh step, how to practice the presence of God, and how to attain soul-balance and inner calm. It explained how to practice meditation by quieting the mind and entering the Divine Silence in order to enter the divine peace and calm and restore our souls.
At the top of each page Rich lays out basic meat-and-potatoes information about how we used to behave when we were drinking, how we need to change our lives, and what we need to do in order to keep the A running with a fanny pack.A. fellowship together.
Then at the bottom of each page he tells us how to pray and meditate. This part of the book forms one of the ten greatest practical works on learning to live the spiritual life that have ever been written, in any century, including both the western world and the world of Asian religions. The eleventh step says "Sought through prayer and meditation (a) to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for (b) knowledge of His will for us and (c) the power to carry that out." Rich's little black book tells us how to actually do that.
His experience in the Oxford Group in 1939-1941 comes out strongly in "Twenty-Four Hours a Day," coming partly from Rich's own experience in the group, and coming partly from his use of an Oxford Group work on prayer and meditation, "God Calling," by Two Listeners. For those who would like to bring modern AA back closer to Oxford Group beliefs and practices, "Twenty-Four Hours a Day" is the most strongly Oxford-Group-oriented work written by an early AA author.