“The Little Black Book” turns 70

Book formally entitled “Twenty-Four Hours a Day” has inspired people in recovery since 1954, topping 10 million sold

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
5 min readMay 3, 2024

By Jeremiah Gardner

Three of several editions of “Twenty-Four Hours a Day,” first published in 1954.

Since June 1, 1954, millions of people recovering from substance use disorders have turned to a small, humble book entitled Twenty-Four Hours a Day for daily inspiration and reflection. Translated into more than 20 languages, Richmond Walker’s “The Little Black Book,” as it’s also known, has been central to daily routines around the globe for nearly 26,000 consecutive days, selling more than 10 million copies and reminding people every day why it’s important and worthwhile to stay sober for another 24 hours.

One day at a time, as we say.

In addition to all the personal lives it has enriched, the book launched Hazelden Publishing, which went on to infuse addiction treatment and recovery into the mainstream of American culture and helped the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation become the nation’s largest and most influential nonprofit dedicated to helping individuals, families and communities overcome substance use and mental health conditions — the gold standard in its field.

All those 24 hours since 1954 now add up to 70 years, one of many notable milestones the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is celebrating in 2024 as it marks its 75th anniversary.

The late historian and author Damian McElrath eloquently captured the origins of Twenty-four Hours a Day, in the foreword he wrote for the 2013 reprint:

Foreword to the 2013 Reprint Edition of Twenty-Four Hours a Day

Inside his personal copy of Alcoholics Anonymous, Richmond W. wrote his sobriety date, May 23, 1942, along with his name and address. On the opposite page he added the following note to himself:

Make book for morning quiet times — short passages for each day — on different phases of AA — Call it “Twenty-Four Hours a Day.”

The book he envisioned in that little note is the one you now hold in your hands. Richmond began the project in 1946, finishing two years later. Through the help of a friend, he had it typeset and printed at the local county courthouse so that he could sell copies for $1.50. He distributed the book from his home, and it wasn’t long before orders were coming in from all over the country, wherever Alcoholics Anonymous groups had established themselves. Some AA members maintained that they got sober on two books: the Big Book and Twenty-Four Hours a Day.

Richmond sold the self-published book for the next five years, donating the profits to his local AA group. By 1953 the book had sold out its third printing of 14,000 copies. With orders steady at 600 a month, the author could no longer keep up with the demand, so he wrote to AA’s General Service Office. Would AA Publishing, Inc., assume the publication and distribution of Twenty-Four Hours a Day and keep any resulting income? It had simply become too much for one man to handle, even with the help of other AA members.

It was only after his offer was declined that the author found the ideal home for his book with Hazelden, the Minnesota-based treatment center.

Twenty-Four Hours a Day Comes to Hazelden
Patrick Butler, Hazelden’s president, had already come across the so-called Little Black Book. But, he later recalled, he did not realize the little volume’s true power until he went to an Irish wake. “In Catholic wakes, quite often you will see entwined in the hands of the deceased a rosary or a prayer book therein,” Butler said. “In this particular case, I was startled to see the Twenty-Four Hours a Day book in his hands. So you are able to see in what high esteem a great many people held that book. And it has been a great aid to a great many people — particularly a lot of loners all over the world.”

In February 1954, months before AA declined the book, Butler had already written its author about Hazelden’s interest in publishing it. Richmond had responded that should AA’s General Conference decide against it, he would consider Butler’s offer. And so that May, Butler wrote that Hazelden’s board had agreed to publish it.

When Richmond answered, he enclosed the book’s sales history and also seven hundred unsolicited endorsements. Soon it was publicly announced that on June 1, Hazelden would take over the publication, sale, and distribution of Twenty-Four Hours a Day. While the contents would be the same, the cover and binding “would be of better quality and more attractive.” For a while the Little Black Book became the “Little Green Book,” but later, when Richmond told Butler that he felt nostalgic about the black cover, Butler ordered a return to the original.

Five thousand copies were sold when the book was released in 1954, eighty thousand by 1959, seven million by 1990, and well over 8.2 million as of 2013. Including translated editions, worldwide sales to date exceed 9.7 million. As a result of this book, Hazelden would eventually become the leading publisher of educational materials on addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery.

In April 1958 Richmond wrote to Butler, “Although I only compiled the book, I am naturally very pleased at its wide acceptance, even in places outside of AA.” He continued, “If we can do something that will benefit just one person fifty years from now, it is worthwhile.”

Damian McElrath, DHE
Adapted from
Making the Little Black Book: Inside the Working Manuscript of Twenty-Four Hours a Day

Pictured is the note Richmond Walker wrote to himself in his own personal first-edition Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1946, citing E. Stanley Jones’ book “The Way” — published earlier that yearas an inspiration. Walker’s Big Book is part of the Hazelden-Pittman Archives.

Still Breaking Through and Sparking Hope

  • Read more about the 70th anniversary of Hazelden Publishing, which today is a diversified $37 million business supporting consumers, schools and behavioral health professionals across the world and amplifying the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s mission.
  • Read more about Hazelden Betty Ford’s 75th anniversary and join in the celebrations.

Jeremiah Gardner is the former director of communications and public affairs for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and an occasional ongoing contributor.

Jeremiah Gardner



Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

As a force of healing & hope for those affected by addiction, we feature insights and views from leading voices on prevention, treatment & recovery.