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Publisher's Summary

Longlisted for the 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction

Longlisted for the 2021 FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award 

A Barack Obama 2021 Summer reading list recommendation

The gripping and shocking story of three generations of the Sackler family and their roles in the stories of Valium, Oxycontin and the opioid crisis.

The Sackler name adorns the walls of many storied institutions - Harvard; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Oxford; the Louvre. They are one of the richest families in the world, known for their lavish donations in the arts and the sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing Oxycontin, a blockbuster painkiller that was a catalyst for the opioid crisis - an international epidemic of drug addiction which has killed nearly half a million people. 

In this masterpiece of narrative reporting and writing, Patrick Radden Keefe exhaustively documents the jaw-dropping and ferociously compelling reality. Empire of Pain is the story of a dynasty: a parable of 21st-century greed.

©2021 Patrick Radden Keefe (P)2021 Penguin Randomhouse LLC

Critic Reviews

"One of the most anticipated books of this spring." (Washington Post)

"Put simply, this book will make your blood boil...Keefe...paints a devastating portrait of a family consumed by greed and unwilling to take the slightest responsibility or show the least sympathy for what it wrought." (John Carreyrou, author of Bad Blood, in the New York Times)

"Jaw-dropping.... Beggars belief." (Sunday Times)

"You feel almost guilty for enjoying it so much." (The Times)

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Exclusive reporting of Greed of Sackler Family

An excellent account of the insatiable greed of family over 3 generation resulted in so much pain and death

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 13-08-21

An example of excellent journalist work

The time and effort put into this investigation shows in this audiobook. An interesting listen from start to finish.

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  • Tom Dawkins
  • 13-08-21

A great book which will make your blood boil

A brilliant, compelling and enraging story of the key role played by the Sackler family in the opioid crisis, and their continuing refusal to take any responsibility. Incredibly researched and beautifully written.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-08-21

Great book

One of the best books I have ever read. I would certainly recommend it to anyone.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 19-05-21

HBO?Netflix?Award-winning movie/limitedseries?

Brilliant! Needs to be shared on more platforms! Some Sackler descendant/movie producer must be interested...

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  • Edward Fisher
  • 01-05-21

I know it’s clichéd but, “If you read one book this year.....”

Illuminating, Jaw-dropping and unremittingly brilliant in its forensic account of the drug-induced catastrophe that plagued America. Reading this as a Brit who was aware but in no way fully cognisant of the enormous scale of the problem in the U.S. this book provided an invaluable insight into some of the darker practices and opportunities that present themselves within American corporate culture. A sobering but extremely rewarding account.

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  • S C DYKES
  • 17-08-21

Essential Reading

A wonderful demonstration of investigative journalism. A maddening account of an extraordinary miscarriage of justice and another black mark in the record of Trump’s Department of Justice. But as Keefe makes clear this scandal was almost a century in the making and yet another example of our passive acceptance of corporate greed. We are living through a second Gilded Age even more venal and corrupt than the first.

That makes this book sound like the work of a self-righteous bleeding-heart. Far from it. It is written (and narrated) with an acerbic wit and an urgency that makes it as compelling as any thriller. The Sackler family may never read it, but I’d urge you too.

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  • Megan
  • 01-07-21

An angry, populist, gossipy book that doesn’t engage seriously with the issues

This is an angry and populist book. It is a book that I suspect that the author found convenient to write, rather than the better one that he might have written, after more research, assimilation of materials and application of judgement. It contains a lot of blow by blow type narrative that should have been excised by an editor, but one suspects that the rush to publish meant that this step was omitted.

I had been expecting an exposition of addiction, painkillers, types of pain that people suffer from and possible ways of alleviating it, facts and figures about the probability of becoming addicted if you have prescriptions for various types of painkillers, the various players in the market, how they market painkillers, and whether or how Purdue Pharma was an outlier. In other words, an engagement with the interesting, albeit troubling issues involved. Instead I read/listened to a gossipy book about the peccadilloes of the Sackler family going back to a generation prior to the one that developed Oxycontin, and continual unabated criticism of the Sacker Family is. The author admits as much in the afterword. He wants to draw a narrative that the behaviour of the patriarch, Arthur, was the root cause. The book should have been entitled, “reasons to hate the Sacklers and maybe lynch them”.

I do not doubt that those Sacklers in charge of the company acted unethically and that they marketed Oxycontin aggressively. To be fair to the book, it does provide evidence from one study that used evidence from different rules in different states as a natural experiment to infer that the marketing of Oxycontin gave impetus to the opiod epidemic. But the author is not an unbiased narrator. Indeed, the author goes as far at one point as to question whether the Sacklers have human feelings. He is cynical about any positive that any of them do, finding base explanations and motives in everything. That is disgraceful and dangerous.

What is also disgraceful is how poorly informed some of the author's criticisms appear to be. For example, he levels absurd criticisms at Judge Drain in his efforts to wind up Purdue Pharma. The author seemed to expect insolvency proceedings to include statements from families of overdose victims regarding the impact on them. I am no lawyer but it seems to me that this would be an absurdity and would be irrelevant to the matter at hand. This is not to deny the tragedy of the hundreds of thousands of families involved. It is simply to say that that would not be an appropriate forum.

And in his criticism of everything and everyone, apart from activists, the author fails to suggest what should have happenned. It is easy to criticise.

This book is a warning to those who act unethically. If you do so, there is a danger that a disgraceful book like this will be written about you. It is worth listening to this book just to see how dishonest some writers as well as company owners can be and to listen for both types of lies.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 25-05-21

Extremely interesting background and perspective

As someone who had a family member addicted to heroin, I was always very interested to learn how a pharma company had effectively managed to legalise the sale of heroin/addictive opioids in the US and demonstrably create a generation of addicts who’s lives and family’s lives have been destroyed.

It is so disheartening to learn that they had the information and the power to make changes but that greed was overtook any sense of moral compulsion.

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  • amberannie
  • 03-05-21

A must read

Thank you to Patrick and his team for this book, a must read for anyone seeking to understand how this scourge happened and the players responsible.
An extremely important story that needed to be told, and as so many players are involved in a way a lay person can comprehend.
That has been accomplished.
I am to the depths of my soul sadden and totally outraged by the behaviour of the Sacklers. I urge you to read.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-09-21

What a great read!

Took me a week to listen through it all. Insightful and powerful. A great reader to top it off.

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  • Des
  • 10-09-21

Everyone should read this

If anyone really believes that great Pharma are here for our health they should read this story.

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  • Niall Murphy
  • 10-09-21

Unremittingly brilliant

Possibly the best non-fiction book I've ever read. Flawlessly researched, compelling and devastating in equal measure. A must read.

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  • Kimmi
  • 10-09-21

Well-researched, engaging, impact lessened by missionary narration

I would have appreciated a more neutrality in the writing and narration. The facts are damning enough to speak for themselves, and the descriptors and accusatory tone of the voice work made the book feel too missionary for my taste.

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  • Jennie Godfrey
  • 08-09-21

Best non-fiction book I’ve ever read

I was daunted at the length of this book, wondering how I’d find the time then devoured it in three days, using every available moment to listen. Brilliantly researched, written and read it’s mind blowingly good

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  • James M
  • 04-05-21

Fantastic book

Fascinating read, meticulously researched and shines a light on the shameful legacy of the Sackler family. The author does a great job narrating as well. Highly reccomended!

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  • Missamity
  • 03-05-21

Fascinating and impressive

Careful and meticulous reporting makes this story of corporate greed and personal indifference to suffering both fascinating and horrifying. Very impressive.

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  • kn kells
  • 03-05-21

astute and relevant

Recommended by John Oliver and I absolutely loved it. Just the right balance of personal stories and facts. So very relevant in the current political climate. The author is an excellent narrator. His tone and cadence adds weight and solemnity to the topic without adding hysteria or derision.

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  • Annabel Astbury
  • 14-09-21

Outstanding

Compelling history and analysis. The structure from early family history to the epidemic was perfect.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 14-09-21

Excellent read!

A fascinating and balanced look at the very origins of Oxycontin and the extreme wealth and power of the Sackler dynasty.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-09-21

Wow!

This book is so well written and researched. I was crying and applauding at the end. A compelling account of the greed of the Sackler family, the extensive cover up and destruction of millions of lives that it caused.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 25-08-21

Unreservedly 5 Stars

Outstanding exploration and expose of a family dynasty, which reads like an unputdownable novel - part historical fiction, part documentary and part medico-legal drama. Meticulously researched, with a balanced presentation and a huge cast of nuanced characters. The narration is superb.

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  • Declan
  • 22-08-21

Pulitzer material

This is a fabulous work of journalism and a thrilling story. It's as well written and gripping as it is thoroughly researched, nuanced and breathtaking for what it reveals about power, greed, and the failure of institutions.

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  • Deirdre E Siegel
  • 17-08-21

Brilliant exhibition of how the American legal system feeds the 1%

Fascinating look into how much a name means, and lengths that name will go, to blame anyone but themselves for their choice to appear ‘good’.
A very good reason to look into the foundations of foundations that supply funds in return for naming rights.
No good deed goes unpunished.
Great book, thanks Patrick :-)

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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-08-21

Very interesting

I never knew anything about this topic, apart from snippets on medical TV shows (which now make more sense). Just a really interesting book on the history of a pain killer drug and the people behind it. Very well read also.