Following is a list of every book about the Children of God cult, also known as the Family. Since I was raised in this cult, I’ve been compiling this list for years now. Here they all are, for anyone who’s interested to find their next great read or wants to dig into the whole lot.
I’ve organized the books here based on whether the authors were born into the cult, joined on their own, or were outsiders (academics, journalists, etc.). I’ve also included a couple of bonus novels authored by ex-members with stories that are heavily modeled on the Children of God.
- Books marked with 🎧 are available as audiobooks.
- Books marked with 🗄️ have digital copies available to borrow for free after signing up at Archive.org.
- Books published since 2020 are marked 🆕.
- Memoirs by People Born & Raised in the Children of God
- Memoirs & More by People who Joined & Left the Children of God
- Books about the Children of God by Outsiders
- Fiction Based on the Children of God
Memoirs by People Born & Raised in the Children of God
Here are all the books describing experiences in the Family that have been written by people who, like me, were raised in the cult as kids. We’re often called the second generation, in contrast to the first generation who joined on their own.
🆕 Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing: Essays, by Lauren Hough
- Released: April 2021
- Pages: 320
- 🎧 Audiobook read by Cate Blanchett and author Lauren Hough. Could Cate’s involvement mean there’s a movie adaptation in the works?
Lauren Hough’s memoir in essays is one of the books about the Family I’d most recommend. It’s also the one I most closely relate to from those I’ve read, partly because we’re close in age and therefore experienced the same era of the cult’s history. It covers her upbringing in the Family, but also her time as an airman, cable guy, bouncer, and more. It’s a well-written and brutally honest exploration of the ways the cult influenced her life, and it’s excellent throughout.
Check out this interview with Lauren about the book on NPR’s Fresh Air podcast:
BRAVE, by Rose McGowan
- Released: May 2019
- Pages: 272
- 🎧 Audiobook read by author Rose McGowan
My life, as you will read, has taken me from one cult to another. BRAVE is the story of how I fought my way out of these cults and reclaimed my life.
The second cult Rose is referring to in this quote is Hollywood.
Actress and activist Rose McGowan’s family left the Family when she was still fairly young, so this book’s coverage of the cult is limited. But similar to Lauren’s book, there are numerous other fascinating aspects of Rose’s life that she covers here. Among other things, Rose emancipated herself from her parents at age 15, rose to movie and television stardom, was engaged to Marilyn Manson for a couple of years, and helped start the Me Too movement—so there’s plenty to cover. Her book is fantastic.
Not Without My Sister: The True Story of Three Girls Violated and Betrayed by Those They Trusted, by Kristina, Celeste, & Juliana
- Released: July 2007
- Pages: 432
- 🗄️ Borrow
Written by sisters Kristina Jones, Celeste Jones, and Juliana Buhring, this book details their experiences growing up in the Family and was the first such book to be published by anyone born into the cult. It became a bestseller in the UK and Australia and was published in 10 languages.
You can read press coverage, listen to radio interviews, and see the cult’s public reaction to the book at XFamily.org.
I have a personal connection here because I’m friends with five of the Jones/Buhring siblings, including coauthors Celeste and Juliana. Oh and by the way, Juliana is a badass ultra-endurance cyclist who set the Guinness World Record for the fastest woman to cycle around the world (a title she held for six years). She wrote about that in another book that I highly recommend.
🆕 Sex Cult Nun: Breaking Away from the Children of God, a Wild, Radical Religious Cult, by Faith Jones
- Released: November 2021
- Pages: 400
- 🎧 Audiobook
Author Faith Jones was one of cult founder David Berg‘s granddaughters, and she tells a fascinating and inspirational story of coming of age, self-discovery, determination, overcoming trauma, and ultimately going on to be very successful in her education and career. If you’re looking for a book where the cult is a primary focus (which excludes e.g. the excellent memoirs by Rose McGowan and Lauren Hough), this is easily one of the best.
Listen to an interview with Faith about the book on NPR’s Fresh Air podcast:
More Books by Cult Babies
- Born into the Children of God: My Life in a Religious Sex Cult and My Struggle for Survival on the Outside, by Natacha Tormey — 2014
- Apocalypse Child: A Life in End Times, by Flor Edwards — 2018; audiobook 🎧
- 🆕 Rebel: The Extraordinary Story of a Childhood in the ‘Children of God’ Cult, by Faith Morgan — 2021; audiobook 🎧
- 🆕 Cult Following: My Escape and Return to the Children of God, by Bexy Cameron — 2021; audiobook (UK-only) 🎧
- 🆕 Uncultured: A Memoir, by Daniella Mestyanek Young — 2022; audiobook 🎧
- Cult Child Tells All, by Abe Johnson — 2011
- Passing for Normal: Memoirs of a Cult Child, by Carl Asher — 2012
- Inner Course: My Journey Out of Cultism Into Freedom, by Rebecca Joy — 2013
- The Gift of Will: A Road to Forgiveness: A Passageway to the Divine, by Marie Palmer & Lisa Cerasoli — 2018
Memoirs & More by People who Joined & Left the Children of God
Although the first book about the Family by someone born into it didn’t come until 2007, first-generation members who joined and left the cult had been writing about them for years.
Growing up, we mostly weren’t allowed to read books that weren’t written by the cult. But it went beyond that with these books. Books unfriendly toward the cult were either unknown or exceptionally taboo.
- Not For a Million Dollars, by Una McManus & John C. Cooper — 1980; borrow 🗄️
- The title of this book alludes to how author Una McManus successfully sued the cult and its founder David Berg in the USA for one and a half million dollars. Berg never paid. Read more about the book at ExFamily.org.
- David Berg’s reaction to the verdict: “She had joined the Family & claimed that it had harmed her irreparably, psychologically & blah blah, & she went to a System court & that stupid idiotic damn Satanic diabolical System judge awarded her the million dollars damages. Do you think I paid?—Of course not! They can’t find me!—But I’d better never go to Ohio!”
- The same authors published a second book, Dealing with Destructive Cults, in 1984.
- The Children of God: The Inside Story, by Deborah Davis & Bill Davis — 1984; borrow 🗄️
- Author Deborah Davis was one of cult founder David Berg’s daughters, and in 1972 at age 25 she was crowned by Berg as the “Queen of God’s New Nation.” She defected a few years later and renounced her dad.
- Available to read for free at ExFamily.org.
- Heaven’s Harlots: My Fifteen Years in a Sex Cult, by Miriam Williams — 1998; borrow 🗄️
- In its first printing, this book used the title Heaven’s Harlots: My Fifteen Years as a Sacred Prostitute in the Children of God Cult.
- Read an intro by the author, press coverage, and the Family’s official response to the book at XFamily.org.
- Children of Darkness, by Ruth Gordon — 1988; borrow 🗄️
- The Children of God Cult, aka The Family, by Sam Ajemian — 2005; website
- Something Somebody Stole, by Ray Connolly — 2011
- The Children of God: There Is Life After the Cult, by Faye Thomas — 2013
- 🆕 Abnormal Normal: My Life in the Children of God, by Mary Mahoney — 2020
Books about the Children of God by Outsiders
These are books written by academics, journalists, deprogrammers, parents of Children of God members, and more.
- Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge, by Don Lattin — 2007; borrow 🗄️
- Let Our Children Go! by Ted Patrick & Tom Dulack — 1976
- Author Ted Patrick was the first deprogrammer and a founding member of the first organized anti-cult group, The Parents Committee to Free Our Sons and Daughters from the Children of God.
- Life in the Family: An Oral History of the Children of God, by James D. Chancellor — 2000; borrow 🗄️
- Chancellor takes a nonjudgmental tone, downplays past beliefs and practices, and makes excuses for leaders. But he also does something remarkable: He gives us the direct voices of cult members while still in the cult, who he somehow got to be open and honest. This book is therefore a unique record of the doublethink members had to do to keep going in the face of mental and sexual abuse that they could see but not acknowledge.
More Books by Outsiders
The remainder are listed in the order they were published.
During the 90s and 2000s, the Family went through a period of outreach toward academics. Several of them, including J. Gordon Melton, James R. Lewis, Williams Sims Bainbridge, and Eileen Barker, became apologists for the cult. At least one book (Sex, Slander, and Salvation) was funded by the cult, and in other cases, researchers’ access to members depended on approval from cult leaders. These academics were invited to well-funded “media homes” where members rehearsed their interactions in advance and were trained to hide their more sensitive beliefs (see: deceivers yet true).
- Children of Doom: A Sobering Look at the Commune Movement, by John W. Drakeford — 1972; borrow 🗄️
- They Followed the Piper, by Lee Hultquist — 1977; borrow 🗄️
- The Snare of the Fowler, by Frankie Fonde Brogan — 1982; borrow 🗄️
- The Children of God/Family of Love: An Annotated Bibliography, by W Douglas Pritchett —1984; borrow 🗄️
- Desperate Measures: The Gripping Drama of a Private Investigator’s Dangerous Mission to Free a Mother’s Young Children from a Bizarre Religious Cult, by Michael Intravia — 1990
- See XFamily.org: Vivian Shillander for more details. Author Michael Intravia worked to locate Shillander’s children in the cult after she left.
- Living in the Children of God, by David E. Van Zandt — 1991; borrow 🗄️
- The Children of God: A Make-Believe Revolution? by Ruth Wangerin — 1993
- Sex, Slander, and Salvation: Investigating The Family/Children of God, by James R. Lewis & J. Gordon Melton — 1994
- The Family funded and edited this book, and advertised it on their website.
- The Endtime Family: Children of God, by William Sims Bainbridge — 2002; borrow 🗄️
- Blinded by Deceit: Deprogramming, a Loving Decision to Find One Daughter, by Joanne Hansen — 2002; borrow 🗄️
- The Children of God: “The Family”: Studies in Contemporary Religion, by J. Gordon Melton — 2004
- Talking with the Children of God: Prophecy and Transformation in a Radical Religious Group, by Gordon & Gary Shepherd — 2010
Books that cover multiple cults including the Children of God:
- All Gods Children: The Cult Experience—Salvation or Slavery? by Carroll Stoner & Jo Anne Parke — 1977; borrow 🗄️
- The Cults Are Coming! by Lowell D. Streiker — 1978; borrow 🗄️
- The Elementary Forms of the New Religious Life, by Roy Wallis — 1984; borrow 🗄️
- Another Gospel: Cults, Alternative Religions, and the New Age Movement, by Ruth A. Tucker — 1989; borrow 🗄️ (chapter 10, The Children of God: Evangelism and Sex Perversion)
- Charts of Cults, Sects & Religious Movements, by H. Wayne House — 2000; borrow 🗄️ (chapter 9, The Family/Children of God)
- From Slogans to Mantras: Social Protest and Religious Conversion in the Late Vietnam War Era, by Stephen A. Kent — 2001; borrow 🗄️
- Read professor Kent’s academic articles about the Family at XFamily.org.
- Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field, by Benjamin Zablocki & Thomas Robbins — 2001 (chapter 8, Brainwashing Programs in The Family/Children of God and Scientology, by Stephen A. Kent)
- The New Believers: Sects, ‘Cults’ and Alternative Religions, by David V. Barrett — 2001; borrow 🗄️ (chapter 12’s section The Family is nine pages of poorly informed apologetics)
- Sex & Religion, by Christel Manning & Phil Zuckerman — 2005 (chapter 8, The Children of God, by Miriam W. Boeri)
- Boeri is the married name of Miriam Williams, who previously wrote Heaven’s Harlots.
- Controversial New Religions, by James R. Lewis & Jesper Aa. Petersen — 2005 (1st edition); borrow 🗄️ (chapter 1, A Family for the Twenty-first Century, by James R. Lewis)
- Gender and the Language of Religion, by Allyson Jule — 2005 (chapter 9, The Children of God Who Wouldn’t, but Had To, by Annabelle Mooney)
- Perfect Children: Growing Up on the Religious Fringe, by Amanda van Eck Duymaer van Twist — 2015
- Handbook of Global Contemporary Christianity: Movements, Institutions, and Allegiance, by Stephen J. Hunt — 2016 (chapter 18, From the Children of God to the Family International, by Eileen Barker)
- Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over, by Janja Lalich & Karla McLaren — 2017; audiobook 🎧
- 🆕 Radical Transformations in Minority Religions, by Eileen Barker & Beth Singler — 2021 (chapter 14, Digitial Revisionism: The Aftermath of the Family International’s Reboot, by Claire Borowik)
- Borowik is the Family’s official spokesperson.
Fiction Based on the Children of God
The Innocent, by Taylor Stevens
- Released: August 2012
- Pages: 352
- 🎧 Audiobook
The Innocent, book two in the bestselling Vanessa Michael Munroe series of thrillers, has the story’s heroine, Vanessa, infiltrating a cult called the Chosen. You can read a seven-page excerpt online.
Although the storyline and characters are fictional, the cult closely resembles the Family. That’s no accident since author and personal friend Taylor Stevens grew up in the Family.
People keep asking me what my life was like, so I can tell them — if you want to know what it was like growing up, read this book, that’s what it was like. […] Everything that happens in the book happened to someone.
- 🆕 The Monsters That Kiss You Goodnight, by Tommy Luca Engel — 2022
So that’s it. I’ll be keeping this list up to date as I learn of any that are missing or newly written. If you’ve read any of these, let me know what you thought of them.
See books from this list that I’ve read and my ratings
- Uncultured, by Daniella Mestyanek Young — 2022 ⭐⭐
- Sex Cult Nun, by Faith Jones — 2021 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
- Not For A Million Dollars, by Una McManus & John C. Cooper — 1980 ⭐⭐⭐
- Rebel, by Faith Morgan — 2021 ⭐⭐⭐
- Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing, by Lauren Hough — 2021 ⭐⭐⭐⭐
- BRAVE, by Rose McGowan — 2019 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
- Apocalypse Child, by Flor Edwards — 2018 ⭐⭐⭐
- The Innocent, by Taylor Stevens — 2012 ⭐⭐⭐
- Not Without My Sister, by Kristina, Celeste, & Juliana — 2007 ⭐⭐⭐
- The Children of God Cult, aka The Family, by Sam Ajemian — 2005 ⭐⭐
If you’re doing research on the cult’s history, you might also be interested in the extensive archive of press coverage of the Children of God at XFamily.org that I and others contributed to. Although it hasn’t been maintained since 2008, it’s by far the largest collection of its kind.
Bonus: If you prefer video over reading, check out this series of short memoir videos by second-generation ex-member Angel DeSantis on YouTube: