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Publisher's Summary

A grand, devastating portrait of three generations of the Sackler family, famed for their philanthropy, whose fortune was built by Valium and whose reputation was destroyed by OxyContin, by the prize-winning, best-selling author of Say Nothing

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 to 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 a blockbuster painkiller that was the catalyst for the opioid crisis. 

Empire of Pain begins with the story of three doctor brothers, Raymond, Mortimer and the incalculably energetic Arthur, who weathered the poverty of the Great Depression and appalling anti-Semitism. Working at a barbaric mental institution, Arthur saw a better way and conducted groundbreaking research into drug treatments. He also had a genius for marketing, especially for pharmaceuticals, and bought a small ad firm.

Arthur devised the marketing for Valium, and built the first great Sackler fortune. He purchased a drug manufacturer, Purdue Frederick, which would be run by Raymond and Mortimer. The brothers began collecting art, and wives, and grand residences in exotic locales. Their children and grandchildren grew up in luxury.

Forty years later, Raymond’s son Richard ran the family-owned Purdue. The template Arthur Sackler created to sell Valium - co-opting doctors, influencing the FDA, downplaying the drug’s addictiveness - was employed to launch a far more potent product: OxyContin. The drug went on to generate some 35 billion dollars in revenue, and to launch a public health crisis in which hundreds of thousands would die. 

This is the saga of three generations of a single family and the mark they would leave on the world, a tale that moves from the bustling streets of early 20th-century Brooklyn to the seaside palaces of Greenwich, Connecticut, and Cap d’Antibes to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C.  Empire of Pain chronicles the multiple investigations of the Sacklers and their company, and the scorched-earth legal tactics that the family has used to evade accountability. The history of the Sackler dynasty is rife with drama - baroque personal lives; bitter disputes over estates; fistfights in boardrooms; glittering art collections; Machiavellian courtroom maneuvers; and the calculated use of money to burnish reputations and crush the less powerful.

Empire of Pain is a masterpiece of narrative reporting and writing, exhaustively documented and ferociously compelling. It is a portrait of the excesses of America’s second Gilded Age, a study of impunity among the super elite and a relentless investigation of the naked greed and indifference to human suffering that built one of the world’s great fortunes.

©2021 Patrick Radden Keefe (P)2021 Random House Audio

What the critics say

“An engrossing (and frequently enraging) tale of striving, secrecy and self-delusion….Keefe nimbly guides us through the thicket of family intrigues and betrayals… Even when detailing the most sordid episodes, Keefe’s narrative voice is calm and admirably restrained, allowing his prodigious reporting to speak for itself. His portrait of the family is all the more damning for its stark lucidity.” (Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times)
 

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One of the best Expose stories I ever read

This is a story of a Pharma scandal (OxyContin) that I knew a little from the recent press coverage of the family’s settlement in court.

Patrick Keefe brings this scandal to life by tracing the Sackler’s family history and the progression of their pursuits as drug manufacturers.

The wealth of data presented in this book, its insightful analysis and beautifully written prose is what makes the book such a delight to read, despite the tragedy associated with the OxyContin scandal.

Most importantly this is a book that is probably best enjoyed in its audio, rather than written version. That is because Patrick does a superb interpretative job of reading it.

Don’t get discouraged by the book’s length. You will be satisfied from beginning to the very end.

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Well written but a little long

PRK did an excellent job thoroughly researching this book and he made sure he shared all of that with us. While I found the overall story and subject matter fascinating I think he cold have more carefully summarized or omitted certain parts. Full marks for details.

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Detailed analysis of one family

To understand the Sacklers and their part in the opioid crisis you get a history of the family workings and ideas. It's not flattering, but the level of detail makes it overwhelmingly distressing any way you look at this story.

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It hurts to read this book.

Before you overdose, opioids kill you one day at a time. In 2013, at age 83, my mother had a hip replacement. It hurt. She saw a locum in the small Canadian town where she lived. “Don’t worry,” he said, “you can take as much as you want, you won’t get addicted.” Anyone who is reading this book knows what happens next.

You can’t recover, or the supply dries up. So you manage to keep getting sicker. One cane became two. Two canes became a walker. The walker became a wheelchair. Terrible, terrible pain, can’t get out of bed anymore. The path to the nursing home strewn with lies, cruelty, recklessness, despair. While her overdoses were not fatal, opioids ruined her, and they tore our family apart. My mom died in 2017, still trying to figure out how to get “something stronger.”

The book resonated with me because it located our experience on the continuum of pain and death created by the Sackler Empire. So much suffering and loss is still happening two decades after the you-can’t-get-addicted lie was exposed. I read the book, and I wept.

Today is Mother’s Day.

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And so to the truth ...

What an amazing glimpse into the world of OxyContin and the family behind its huge entry into the world. Mr. Keefe, by writing this book you have done an incredible justice to those people that have suffered directly or indirectly, from this drug. I feel that I know so much more about how pharmaceutical companies operate and how greed can drive people to move way past moral judgements in their pursuit of the next dollar. I only wish that ‘the family’ had been put on-the-line for their part in this terrible epidemic. It isn’t fair that they walked away with their billions intact while thousands of people are left with only the memories of their lost love ones. Well done Mr. Keefe and thank you for your truth telling.

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Incredible story

A journalistic tour de force. Narrated by the author which is always good. I am still reeling from the thorough expose of the greed of one family behind the opioid crisis.

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Enlightening

A very thorough, enlightening and timely book. I thought it might be too long, but it kept my attention. Great background on the pharmaceutical industry. Surprisingly interesting revelations on the Egyptological exhibitions in the Met (so much I never knew!!), art, art collections and gallery namings
. This section was a bonus to me. Most importantly, I learned the history of OxyContin and all that followed, leading to the opioid crisis killing so many people today. The family behind this story are scumbags... if you can stomach hearing how they put wealth before humanity, then it’s a good read (listen).

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  • Edward Bisch
  • 2021-04-13

Full Account of the Sackler Conspiracy

Since losing my son in 2001 and living much of the book , I can attest that this book covers it all and I believe anyone who listens to this will come to one conclusion that this is a CRIME story.
Only the SacklerACT can prevent a horrible ending to this chapter in history that Patrick masterfully chronicled.

42 people found this helpful

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  • Elizabeth Lund
  • 2021-04-18

MUST READ... you need to know who the Sackler family is

Mr Keefe gives a very informative story with a clear insight to a family that most of us had never heard of. The Sackler family hid behind their pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, making billions of dollars, knowing that people were becoming addicted to their OxyContin that they sold. The Sacklers’ did not have a care in the world that people were dying everyday because of their drug that caused the opioid crisis. The Sacklers’ just continued on living the high life at the expense of other families. Mr Keefe opens your eyes to the corruption that goes on with the pharmaceutical industry and how people with money are offered a different justice then the rest of us. A true tragedy that could have and should have been stopped years before.

15 people found this helpful

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  • Candy
  • 2021-04-21

Definitely a Must Read!

One of the best non fiction books I've read. The story of the 3 arrogant generations associated with the opioid crisis is eye opening.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Cris McBride
  • 2021-04-20

Wow! Now I understand the opioid epidemic!

Having come of age as Valium, then MS Contin, and Oxicontin became major approaches to dealing with anxiety and pain, and having heard physicians repeat the sales pitch they received from a drug sales rep, the information presented in this book was not only very interesting, but more important, very educational.
The author has been meticulous in researching the information that he presents. The book is well written, presenting the information in a historical context to explain how the Sackler family businesses managed to create and market the drugs that would destroy so many lives. I highly recommend this book.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2021-04-20

Thank you to Patrick Radden Keefe

I am very grateful for this book that exposes the truth about OxyContin and the Sackler family. My nephew started on OxyContin problem and quickly graduated to heroin use. He has been in and out of drug rehabilitation his whole adult life and struggled now with felonies and other stigma.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Tim
  • 2021-04-19

Devil’s Family

How many families will cry over this book, remembering their loved ones passing away from their addiction from Oxycodone? “Empire of Pain” has been highly publicized in the upcoming weeks before it’s debut. We all know the opiate pandemic and the millions of lives that were lost, but how much do we know the Devil’s Family? If you want to know more about the Sackler’s, then this book is all about their family’s history.

8 people found this helpful

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  • L. Gronet
  • 2021-04-21

Excellent!

Great writing and investigating. This family is beyond evil, and now I know the FDA is too!

7 people found this helpful

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  • Neil Solanky
  • 2021-04-21

Excellent

Have recommended it to everyone I have talked to since I started the book. I would expect nothing less from Keefe, a magnificent writer, researcher, and journalist. Thorough, but not dull for a single second.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Nina Jacobson
  • 2021-04-20

Unputdownable

You won't find a better reporter or storyteller than Patrick Radden Keefe. I was spellbound from the first page.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Xavier
  • 2021-04-20

Excellent

This and his book on the troubles, Say Nothing, are excellently reported and well written.

3 people found this helpful