Expert’s view

Jon Ronson: my five best books about the culture wars

The culture wars form the subject of his new eight-part series

The journalist, author and filmmaker picks his five best books about the culture wars, which form the subject of his new eight-part series, Things Fell Apart, available now on BBC Sounds and Radio 4.

Crazy for God by Frank Schaeffer (2007)

One of the pleasures of making Things Fell Apart were long walks listening out for buried treasure in audiobook memoirs. This extraordinary life story gave me episode one. A boy in an alpine evangelical commune, dreaming of making avant-garde movies, inadvertently kickstarts a campaign of murders in the 1990s.

Da Capo Press £11.95

A War for the Soul of America by Andrew Hartman (2015)

In his exhaustive culture wars history, Hartman includes fascinating conflicts I couldn’t fit in – like Piss Christ, an artwork of a crucifix dipped in urine that caused wild ructions in the 1980s but is now largely forgotten, as many of the conflicts that overwhelm us today will surely soon be.

University of Chicago Press £17; The Week Bookshop £13.99

Black, White and Jewish by Rebecca Walker (2000)

Walker’s father was a Jewish lawyer; her mother was Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple. Her beauti­ful memoir tells how, after their split, her childhood was spent moving “between universes that never overlap”. The exper­i­ence inspired her to invent a new movement – third-wave feminism – in the 1990s.

Out of print

I Will Survive… and You Will Too! by Tammy Faye Messner (2003)

Tammy Faye Bakker was an ostentatious 1980s televan­gelist. While undeniably fraud-adjacent – her husband Jim was imprisoned for misusing viewer donations – Tammy was a wonderful oasis of curiosity among her deeply homophobic peers.

Tarcher £10.99

N***** by Dick Gregory (1964).

Dick Gregory was a hugely successful comedian before he quit it all for civil rights activism in the 1960s. His memoir does not asterisk the n-word. It’s spelt out. As a result, it was banned by Christian conservatives in the 1970s. And now it has been banned again – this time by progressives on college campuses. Illiberalism mutates.

Plume £13.99

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