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 360 Ratings


A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEARNEW 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 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. 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.


  • 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.
  • Great Book

    By Billy in Vermont
    Could not put it down.
  • A devastating feat of journalism

    By rams'
    Jaw dropping stuff — read it

    By Carlos Ross
    I learned so much about the opioid crisis that it is understandable why it is so difficult to obtain pain medication. I took it during a period before surgery for spinal stenosis and then I weaned myself off of it. I think it is good to illustrate the problems it has caused,but now doctors are terrified to prescribe it. While I enjoyed the book, it was very long and intense. My only complaint is that it should be condensed.
  • Painfully

    By Job11
  • Could not put it down

    By Shaharah L
    I watched and listened to several interviews about this book before I bought it. I could not put t down! It took me 4 days to read. The amount of detail and information is incredible. I would get to the end of a chapter, and tell my self …one more chapter. So captivating. If there are as many pages of information as the author says, he may need to write another book, or turn it into a document-series.