Children of God book covers

Every Book Ever Written About the Children of God Cult πŸ“š

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 bonus novel authored by an ex-member that centers around a fictitious cult that is heavily based on the Children of God.

  • Books marked with 🎧 are available as audiobooks.
  • Books marked with πŸ—„οΈ have digital copies available to borrow for free after signing up at Archive.org.
  • Books published since 2020 are marked πŸ†•.

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.

Book cover: Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing, by Lauren Hough

πŸ†• 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 perhaps the book 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:

Book cover: BRAVE, by Rose McGowan

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 movementβ€”so there’s plenty to cover. Her book is fantastic.

Book cover: Not Without My Sister, by Kristina Jones, Celeste Jones, and Juliana Buhring

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
  • πŸ—„οΈ 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.

Steven Levithan and Juliana Buhring at a bar
Me and Juliana Buhring in Naples, Italy, 2011

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 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.

Book cover: Cult Following, by Bexy Cameron

πŸ†• Cult Following: My Escape and Return to the Children of God, by Bexy Cameron

A memoir of Bexy’s childhood in the Children of God and her more recent road trip across the States to spend time with a variety of other cults. This book is set to become a TV miniseries starring Dakota Johnson and Riley Keough.

Check out Audible’s interview with Bexy about the book on YouTube (below), or listen to a longer version of the same interview on Audible.

More Books by Cult Babies

Self published:

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 β€” 1980; borrow πŸ—„οΈ
    • 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?β€”Of course not! They can’t find me!β€”But I’d better never go to Ohio!”
  • The Children of God: The Inside Story, by Deborah Davis & Bill Davis β€” 1984; borrow πŸ—„οΈ
    • 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 β€” 1998; borrow πŸ—„οΈ
    • 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 β€” 1988; borrow πŸ—„οΈ

Self published:

Books about the Children of God by Outsiders

These are books written by academics, journalists, deprogrammers, parents of Children of God members, and more.

Notable

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).

Books that cover multiple cults including the Children of God:

Fiction Based on the Children of God

Book cover: The Innocent, by Taylor Stevens

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 β€” 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.


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.

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:

Want to learn more about the cult?

3 thoughts on “Every Book Ever Written About the Children of God Cult πŸ“š”

  1. Hi Steven. As you noted about press coverage added to the xfamily site, there hasn’t been new ones added since 2008. I have archived dozens of news reports since 2011 that are specifically about TFI on these two pages of a blog I keep of news articles on religion related child abuse. One of these days I intend to format all those TFI articles in way that will make it easy to add them to xfamily. For now they are at: https://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.com/p/family-international.html and https://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.com/2011/03/denied-education-in-family.html

    1. Thanks for collecting those, Perry.

      Aside: Perry helped identify a few books I was missing and also inspired the categorization I used here (born vs joined vs outsiders). So thanks for that, too!

  2. Thank you for this list. I have been reading the latest article regarding this subject from the Times UK.

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