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“I kind of have a cafeteria plan, where you take the things that work for you and discard the things that don’t work,” he said.

Among other accepted edits was a softening of the book’s “directive” tone to a more suggestive one, especially in the early chapters.

“Do people like to be told they will be instructed,” wrote one of the editors in red pencil as he nipped away at a passage discussing a solution in Chapter Two: “This volume will inform, instruct and comfort those who are, or who may be affected.”

The word “instruct” was dropped.

In Chapter Five, “How It Works,” the opening line was: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our directions.” In the same red pencil, the language was changed in the book’s first edition to “followed our path.”

In the opening chapter, which tells Wilson’s story, one commenter questions this sentence: “God has to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish.”

The criticism? “Who are we to say what God has to do.” The reference, at a Dr. Howard’s suggestion, was changed to “Faith.”

Some mentions of God became “God as we understood him,” and the famous “We” at the beginning of the first step was added later at the suggestion of one among five or six to make notes on the manuscript, including Wilson himself.

In the seventh step, where Wilson and his collaborators indicate to their readers that they “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings,” a reference to doing so “on our knees” was crossed out and never made it into print.

There were other slippery slopes.

In the heavily edited second chapter is a note warning against saying AA members who have “found this solution” would be “properly armed with certain medical information” to quickly win over other drinkers.

“Doctors are a jealous lot and don’t like this,” one note says. “I have had to ask what medical information?” the note reads, with the last three words in all capital letters, before asking “Why not cut?”

The risky phrase was changed to “properly armed with facts about himself.”

While some critics question whether AA really works for most, Ms. Cheever said Wilson would have hated the idea of forcing it down the throats of anybody, including prison inmates or court defendants, against their will.

“He understood that very well,” she said. “He said over and over and over again that never works.”