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Publisher's Summary

New York Times Best Seller

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. From the prize-winning and bestselling author of Say Nothing, as featured in the HBO documentary Crime of the Century.

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 twentieth-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

Critic Reviews

New York Times best seller

On President Obama’s Summer 2021 Reading List

“I read everything he writes. Every time he writes a book, I read it. Every time he writes an article, I read it.... He’s a national treasure.” (Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and author of the number one New York Times best-selling Blowout)  

“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

“A true tragedy in multiple acts. It is the story of a family that lost its moorings and its morals.... Written with novelistic family-dynasty and family-dynamic sweep, Empire of Pain is a pharmaceutical Forsythe Saga, a book that in its way is addictive, with a page-turning forward momentum.” (David M. Shribman, The Boston Globe

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What listeners say about Empire of Pain

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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.

70 people found this helpful

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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.

36 people found this helpful

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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.

21 people found this helpful

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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.

15 people found this helpful

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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.

15 people found this helpful

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Unputdownable

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

14 people found this helpful

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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.

13 people found this helpful

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Excellent

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

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Excellent!

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

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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.

8 people found this helpful