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Publisher's Summary

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)

What listeners say about Empire of Pain

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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
  • 05-01-21

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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  • Megan
  • 07-01-21

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
  • 05-25-21

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
  • 05-03-21

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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  • romperstomper
  • 07-29-21

one rule for the rich....

the point is well made in the story that during the trial of the sackler family, El Chapo was sentenced to life improvement for selling a similar product to oxyconton. no much sanction for the wealthy. instead they use their connections within the trump administration to disband the prosecution. worth reading more for the expose on the corruption than for the optium pandic

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  • George
  • 07-28-21

Great story

Personally liked book 1 best, but nevertheless the other 2 parts of this book are equally fascinating. Great work

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  • monica
  • 07-26-21

a must listen

excellent - story, journalism, narration. a long but powerful audio book. I would absolutely recommend to anyone looking for a meaningful, world changing listen

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-11-21

A well researched and written rage read

This is an incredible text that in great detail and balance unfolds the inner workings of the Sackler family and their involvement in the tragedy of the opioid epidemic. A must-read (listen), although left me asking how this could be allowed to happen and for so long?!

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  • Miss A.
  • 07-07-21

Heartbreaking but superb

What an incredible story, told in a thoughtful and respectful way. The Sacklers should be ashamed.

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  • G P MEGAW
  • 07-02-21

Brilliant Exposé of the Opioid Villains

Fascinating account of the rise and fall of the Sackler family dynasty and their toxic 'Oxycontin' legacy.

Engrossing. As with "Say Nothing" (available free on Libby!) Radden Keefe is in brilliant form and I can't wait for his next project. Five stars.

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  • James M
  • 05-04-21

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
  • 05-03-21

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
  • 05-03-21

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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  • Peter H Brownlee
  • 07-18-21

Great Story

Very impressive As a pharmacist I have witnessed the OxyContin impact firsthand Congratulations to all involved

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  • Damien
  • 07-07-21

mind altering journalism

this is an unbelievable insight into the mega rich and their desire to have more money at any cost. they should be up their with Pablo and Guzman

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  • Christine M
  • 06-18-21

Fascinating - thank you to the author

Such an important story to tell. I didn’t expect to learn so much about pharmaceutical advertising, corporate obfuscation and government failings.

This is a very important book I hope lawmakers are also reading.

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  • melanie
  • 06-10-21

A frightening testimony on the power of money

A fascinating and terrifying story. Clear and easy to follow. Patrick Radden Keefe has once again created an unputdownable account of the shadow powers that control and influence all our lives. The focus of his attention is essential to help us make our world a safer and more transparent place.

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  • Michelle P
  • 06-06-21

Pain killers

Fantastic book and well written.
Such a massive addiction issue but thanks for the well documented evidence.
Addiction out of control worldwide

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  • CA Wong
  • 06-03-21

Superb

This is an amazing story told by a master storyteller in search of the truth.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-01-21

Great and insightful listen!!

An exceptionally researched and engaging listen. Gives great insight into the drivers behind the opioid crisis gripping not just America but countries worldwide, as well as exposing those who've benefited on the back of such an epidemic!!