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Summary

THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

Now on BBC Radio 4 'Book of the Week'

Winner of the 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction

Shortlisted for the 2021 Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award

One of Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2021

Shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction

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, award-winning journalist and host of the Wind of Change podcast Patrick Radden Keefe exhaustively documents the jaw-dropping and ferociously compelling reality. Empire of Pain is the story of a dynasty: a parable of twenty-first-century greed.

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

Critic reviews

"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)

"If you haven’t read it already, you really should. I’ve been thinking about it nonstop ever since I finished it." (Malcolm Gladwell)

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What listeners say about Empire of Pain

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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.

18 people found this helpful

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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.

12 people found this helpful

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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.

9 people found this helpful

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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.

6 people found this helpful

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Fascinating story of greed and indifference to suf

Fascinating story of a family who wanted their name to be remembered. They achieved that goal but perhaps not how they had originally envisaged. This story makes me appreciate my country's National Health Service where there isn't the opportunity for corruption of the kind found in the USA's way of delivering health care.

4 people found this helpful

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Wow

The world is a broken place, some people profit from the brokenness, I would like to thank Patrick for his hard work and dedication bringing this story to life, some day the film will be epic loved it, couldn’t, believe it, Empire of pain is a story of profit over suffering unbelievable but unfortunately true

4 people found this helpful

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Fantastic read and absolutely gripping

Listened to the full book in 3 days
Well narrated
Shame on the National Gallery & British Museum for keeping the Sackler name all over the place

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Eye-opener

Even if you're generally sceptical about the motives etc. of the pharma companies, this is an extraordinary, revealing read about the enrichment of a family by pushing a drug they knew caused appalling harm. Further developments are still taking place but it's hard to imagine anyone writing a better in-depth account of the rising fortunes of the Sacklers and the greed that was their downfall. Excellently read by the author. One of the best audiobooks I've heard.

2 people found this helpful

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Horrified and in Awe

what another amazing price of work I have thought so much about the effort put into this production. Sickened to my core by the crimes they walked away from and the scale of the harm they've created. Brilliant Book Highly recommended.

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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.

2 people found this helpful

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  • David Lipschitz
  • 18-01-22

Our legal system is flawed

This book gives one yet another example of grand collusion and conspiracy where a super rich group control the narrative and use the legal system to prevent due process.

The one question that still remains unanswered or perhaps unasked is how did hundreds of tons of opium legally get imported into the USA for decades and still does to satisfy the needs of the legal pain industry and how does the FDA know what imports are legal and what imports are illegal?

1 person found this helpful

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  • Heather
  • 04-12-21

Well researched and well written

This book reads like a novel that is filled with twists and complex plots. If this story were fiction, you might be skeptical, but since it is a true story, you find yourself stunned. Highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the opioid crisis, the privilege of wealth, or the justifications one tells when morally bankrupt. Thank you PRK for educating the public and bringing to light this tragic reality.

1 person found this helpful

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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.

1 person found this helpful

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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...

1 person found this helpful

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  • Norma Miles
  • 15-04-22

"Addicted to money."

I read a brief review of this book which stated that the reader had felt guilty at how much they were enjoying the book: it's a great comment and one I can totally endorse. The subject matter, the Sackler family and the total disregard they exhibited in their pursuit of wealth as they lied and pushed their pharmaceutical opiates was stunning.
A brilliantly researched and written narrative non-fiction , expertly read by Patrick Raddon Keele, and most highly recommended

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  • Lorenza Scavino
  • 13-04-22

Extremely interesting,highly informative,profound

Very detailed report of the Sackler family and their endeavors. Extremely interesting, highly informative, profoundly upsetting. A sad indictment of our society and health status of the justice system. Great book: I would highly recommend it!

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  • Millicent Campbell
  • 06-03-22

Interesting and entertaining

Thoroughly enjoyed the book. I thought it would be interesting and it was, but it was surprisingly gripping. Current history that I had heard a lot about and very well written and presented.

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  • Joe Cincotta
  • 21-02-22

spectacular work of research

I cannot even fathom how hard it must have been to write this epic work. the depth of research and detail is staggering. my only disappointment was the ending insofar as there isn't one - they remain criminals at large with the means to exploit the system to their will so they can never be brought to justice. disheartening, yet a story that must be told all the same. thank you.

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  • dianne
  • 05-11-21

conclusion

brilliantly told. a must listen for those interested in the disturbing corruption in the pharmaceutical industry.

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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.