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Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge

3.33  ·  Rating Details  ·  352 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
In the tradition of Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, Don Lattin's Jesus Freaks is the story of a shocking pilgrimage of revenge that left two people dead and shed new light on The Family International, one of the most controversial religious movements to emerge from the spiritual turmoil of the sixties and seventies.

Some say The Family International—previously kn
ebook, 256 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published October 1st 2007)
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(showing 1-30 of 961)
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Apr 12, 2012 Rose rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic, histories
I wouldn't recommend this to those looking for in-depth history on COG/TFI or the 'Jesus People' movement. I was hoping Lattin would delve further into the early history & cultural environment in which high-demand groups like this one were able to flourish.

This book seems to sell itself on the sensationalism of already-sensational events, which makes me wonder why many reviewers seem shocked at the content, knowing in advance what the themes are.

Hopefully this book's existence serves as a s
Jul 02, 2009 aya rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was so badly written and disorganized that it made a compelling subject almost uninteresting. I expected this books to be sensational and tabloid-like, but the writing was so bad that i couldn't even enjoy it as a trashy non-fiction book about an interesting subject.
Molly Jones
Nov 18, 2007 Molly Jones rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people curious about cults
I am intrigued by the people who get sucked into abusive cults. What draws them in? At what point do they forget common sense? This nonfiction book follows the life of "Prophet Prince" Ricky Rodriguez, who was born into the Children of God/The Family International cult and, according to cult founder David Berg, an alcoholic pedophile, was destined to become one of two "witnesses" who would sacrifice himself to bring on the apocalypse. Berg claimed that sex between adults and children (including ...more
This book is... problematic. It veers between wanting to look at the larger sociocultural scene around the rise of cults in the 1960s, being a sensationalist exposé of what is by any standard a real, real shady cult, looking at the underpinnings of the religious doctrine of said cult, and covering a murder suicide committed by a cult member. It wants to do all of those things and does a little of each, but without giving readers any type of functional analysis. It reads amateurishly and is poorl ...more
Jul 27, 2012 Jody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
WOW... Did I say WOW?

I was so caught up in this book. I have studied religion and have an arts degree with a major in Religious Studies, but NEVER... WOW! I am floored. I know that people do some wacky things in the name of Religion, but this one tops the cake so far. Child sexuality, prostitution (oh, sorry, flirty fishing), multiple partners, orgies... and all in the name of Jesus Christ? WOW! I couldn't put this book down, and the whole time, the only thing running through my head was "what m
Jul 19, 2016 Figwiggin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-reads
The subject matter is fascinating, and I appreciate all the effort the author put into researching the events and conducting interviews. I just felt that the writing of it was scattered, especially in a chronological sense--it seemed like it jumped around all over the place, back and forth. There were also some repetitive sections, while parts I would have liked to have had more in-depth were skimmed over. (A challenge when you're piecing a story like this together, I know, but overall it made t ...more
Jan 13, 2015 Gina rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I got a new textbook for a family class I'm teaching this semester. A featured inset article in a chapter on family sexual issues (including child molestation) discusses The Family/Children of God, a cult born out of the hippie/sexual revolution of the 1960s founded by David Berg which advocated free love including between adults and children. This book was listed in the references, and I read it to learn more. The story itself is fascinating covering some of the early history of Berg, the movem ...more
Gayle Francis Moffet
[Trigger: Discussion of sexual abuse]

By chance, I stumbled upon two documentaries about The Children of God (aka The Family, aka The Family International) while browsing around on the internet recently. One, by the director of Beginners was about how he was going back to the group to try and visit family. The other, the name of which I now forget, was about the situation Lattin discusses in this book: The supposed prophet of the next generation, a young man by the name of Ricky, filmed a suicide
This is a hard book to review. Due to the subject matter and that the book is not really that well written, even though the author is a journalist. I only gave it 2 stars, a rating of OK. In the last half of the 60s around the time of the Summer of Love, this cult started picking up momentum. Back then it was better known as Teens for Christ or Children of God and later became the Family International or merely The Family. How anyone could believe some of it is hard to imagine, since unlike some ...more
Elaine Meszaros
Dec 03, 2014 Elaine Meszaros rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Touching on its early history, leaders of the movement and testimony of ex- and current members, Lattin presents a creepy portrait of the Children of God cult, otherwise known as The Family. The book loosely follows the life of David Berg, the charismatic and manipulative leader, and his chosen disciple, Ricky Rodriguez. Lattin tells the story of the rise of the cult, the death of Berg and Rodriguez's murder of Sue Kauten in an attempt to find and kill his own abusive mother and save his sister. ...more
Jun 28, 2014 Randy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another cult book about a cult I'd never heard of before. As usual, it is hard to write a definitive book about a secretive cult because the members don't cooperate so this one morphs into the story of Ricky Rodriguez, adopted son of the cult leader, who is anointed as the successor but doesn't want any part of it. Ricky leaves the group, then decides to take revenge, leading to a sad ending.

Lots of titillating stuff about sex with kids. As often happens reading these kinds of tales, one wonders
Susan Bazzett-griffith
I remember watching a Dateline or 20/20 episode about Ricky Rodriguez and the Family of God cult many years ago, and it had stayed with me as one of the most horrific stories I'd ever heard. This book chronicles that story in a very thorough way, and is gripping, horrifying, and page-turning. After reading Lattin's book, I found myself looking up various documentaries about the cult on YouTube and was totally immersed in those as well. The idea that such evil not only exists in the world, but th ...more
Henri Moreaux
This is not the easiest book to form an opinion on. The topic is probably one of the most heinous things to be written about - the systematic sexual, emotional and physical abuse of children under their brand of Christianity.

The writing itself is average, but the topic overcomes the sub-par writing being such a... shocking time line of events which numerous people thought were acceptable under the guise of their religion: incest, paedophilia, child pornography, adultery and corporal punishment a
Patrick O'Neil
Aug 02, 2008 Patrick O'Neil rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jesus Freaks: the story of a religious group from the early 1960’s: the Children of God, whose doctrine transcended normal religious ideals and descended into a sexually promiscuous, abusive, and secretive cult. Whose true practices and beliefs came to public attention when the group’s chosen prophet, Davidito, an illegitimate and sexually abused descendant of one of the founding members, murdered a leading cult member that sexually abused him as an infant. The story unfolded when police found D ...more
Jan 11, 2014 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
David Berg was an odd cult leader. He built his cult completely around his pathology and abuse history. He mandated sexual contact with infants but was not a interested in participating. He was not attracted to sexually immature girls or boys - but did not waste much time waiting for puberty to end to bring girls into his sexual rotation.

Berg was abused by a nanny as a child. This nanny would caress and fondle him. Eventually, these caresses advanced with his maturing physiognomy. Berg felt this
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ana Mardoll
Mar 02, 2011 Ana Mardoll rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ana-reviewed
Jesus Freaks / 978-0-06-111804-3

Sometimes you're walking through the "True Crime" section of the bookstore, and a book leaps out at you, and you realize that it's the true account of that one Law & Order episode you caught that one time that totally wasn't based on a true story or anything, except of course they all are. And because you thought the episode (Season 15, Episode 19, "Sects") was interesting (in a horrifying kind of way), you take the book home and you read it, and you find a gr
Mar 24, 2013 Amanda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very difficult book to rate so I will start with what's easiest. Considering that the author writes for The Atlantic I had expected better quality writing from him. I found that the writing lacked flow, repeated itself unnecessarily a few times and was disorganized in parts. The actual story however was incredibly compelling and certainly made up for this. A family member had briefly been a member of this cult, originally called the Children of God, leaving once some of the more horrif ...more
Emily Schach
This book was okay. I felt like I was missing a lot of background information about the workings of the Family. The writing seemed to assume that I knew more about the Family than I did. This book mostly focused on the sexual abuse of second generation children raised in the Family. These crimes are horrific and it is difficult to understand how so many of the perpetrators remain free. The book was an interesting read, but I don't know if I would recommend it to others.
Jill Crosby
Sep 19, 2014 Jill Crosby rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This SHOULD be a great read---the dissecting of a counter-culture "love cult" and an in-depth look at the psyches of those at the top of the heap. Sadly, this is not the case here. The writer never really gives the reader much to chew on---there's no real definition of the cult's theology, its proselytizing, its fundraising. We're treated to a laundry list of names & titles, but no real mention is made of what these people do, other than sexually abuse the children in the group. Very disappo ...more
Jul 24, 2016 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sad story, well written

I've heard of Jesus freaks, but not this particular group. It sounds like they were one of the originals. The sexual abuse, mental manipulation and general weirdness was hard to read about. Murder-suicide is certainly not the answer, but I feel for the guy, and all the others hurt by the narcissistic, crazy adults.

The book kept my interest the whole time. It is well researched too.
Jennifer Daniel
Disturbing, sick, gross........Yuck! I am curious at what point does sanity and good sense leave you and you join a cult that endorses pedophelia? This story mainly dealt with the young man who was raised in "The Family" to be the messiah of the next generation. Shockingly, a life time of sex abuse and witnessing what can only be described as perverted debauchery, he exploded in rage and murdered his former nanny. He then went on to take his own life. It was well written and the research was val ...more
Jul 21, 2012 Amber rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested specifically in the Children of God/Family International cult
Shelves: cults, religion, 2010
I read Not Without My Sister: The True Story of Three Girls Violated and Betrayed before this book, and I'm very thankful I did because I doubt I would have had much interest in Jesus Freaks otherwise.

The book was informative, but mostly about the histories of a few people involved in the cult. It definitely comes across as much research-based than memoir/crime-based.

It just doesn't grab you. Unless you have previously read a book about Children of God cult, I wouldn't suggest this. Even if you
Aug 02, 2016 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This was a very disturbing and upsetting book. I had to take time out to read other, lighter works while reading this. I find that this book falls in the category of "important but depressing." Therefore, I recommend this book as an educational tool. However, it is not for the faint of heart.
Aug 25, 2016 Kimberly marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
The subject matter is intriguing, but the writing isn't keeping my attention. It is not cohesive in the telling of individual backstories -- it keeps jumping around and introducing more and more people without explaining who they are -- I just can't keep up. I have a hard time keeping track of names without faces anyway. This book compounds that weakness.
Aug 03, 2016 Mzfitted rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book

The Story of the Children Of God. The David Berg Cult who sanctioned such awful concepts as Flirty Fishing among female members and adult child sex plunging a generation of children into suicide and drug addiction. Very well reasearched
Aug 23, 2016 Cathy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was interesting

It seemed like it was some kind of rush ending. I enjoyed it till I got to the end. It was an iffy kind of book. If someone asked me if I liked the book, I think I would have to say sorta. It was that kind of book.
Feb 09, 2014 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An impressive product of reporting on a bizarre and disturbing cult. The central character's murder-suicide rampage becomes understandable once we learn of the shocking abuse his family (and The Family, which is what the cult calls itself) subjected him to.
Pat Haley
Aug 08, 2016 Pat Haley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lost souls empty minds

One-man with a vision of power a thrust for control and unimagined lust leads thousands into the desert of his mind. A sad story that continues to play out through out the world
Aubrey Hales-Lewis
Very sad true story about a boy raised in a cult to be the prophet, only to be so damaged by the abuse he suffered that he gave up his life. There are some very sick people in this world.
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Don Lattin is a freelance jounalist and a religion writer who seems to be hopelessly stuck in the sixties. He is one of the nation's leading reporters covering alternative religious movements and figures in America. Over the past three decades he has covered Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones, Branch Davidian prophet David Koresh, and Heaven's Gate founder Marshall Herff Applewhite. He has also writt ...more
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“Billy Graham, the icon of American evangelicalism, gave the Jesus freaks his blessing.” 0 likes
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