Empire of Pain - Patrick Radden Keefe

Empire of Pain

By Patrick Radden Keefe

  • Release Date: 2021-04-13
  • Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Score: 4.5
From 620 Ratings


NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE NOMINEE A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR 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

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. The Sackler name has adorned 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 thirty-five 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. 

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.


  • Gut wrenching

    By pupskhutch
    This book is an incredibly detailed look at three generations of a family driven by greed and utterly void of any amount of remorse for their purposeful destruction of humanity in order to line their pockets. The work is very well written!
  • interesting story

    By CreekNine
    interesting to get some of the background of what went on behind the curtains of Purdue. I am just so glad that my physician never put me on OxyContin to fight my chronic neck pain. I could have been one of the statistics. Such a shame of those that were given prescription to such an addictive drug.
  • Mist read

    By Fix The Update Button
    excellent book Must read.
  • A Magnum Opus

    By Pueblo Strong
    Essential reading. Highly engaging, well-researched, deeply absorbing. Unforgettable.
  • A Quintessential Piece of the Opioid Epidemic

    By sonichoneydew
    The research required for a book of this scope - to tell the multigenerational story of the SACKLER family - is staggering. Absolutely amazing work from Keefe. The book couldn’t be more relevant if it tried. This is the quintessential piece in understanding how the opioid epidemic came to be. Please read this book. Our moving forward as a people is dependent upon holding families, like the SACKLER family, responsible for their actions in ruining the lives of so many people.
  • Fascinating

    By BirdoWorky
    Crazy inside story of the opioid epidemic. The Sacklers truly were greedy and evil.
  • A book to understand America

    By AJ WOLB
    Wow. This is an important book for anyone who wants to understand the opioid epidemic. Anybody who knows somebody affected by drug abuse should read this book.
  • They don’t care about our health

    By egg$
    Really eye opening. These companies don’t care about our health. They only see dollar signs. Do yourself a favor and read this.
  • Mind blowing.

    By Cailie M.
    Please do yourself a favor & read this.
  • Compelling and dark

    By thom not yorke
    Vivid biography of the family and crisis told through thoughtful and thorough research. Reads like a thriller that unfortunately is true.