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Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

by Patrick Radden Keefe


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Notes From Your Bookseller

Arthur Sackler, physician, CEO, quasi-journalist and patriarch of Purdue Pharma, by dint of personality, drive and the desire for “having it all,” spawned a pharmaceutical empire — and global scourge — built on greed, indifference, obfuscation and, cloaking it all, privacy. With Say Nothing, Patrick Radden Keefe proved a storyteller extraordinaire.  And, no less, in Empire of Pain, in which Keefe opens a Pandora’s box, a tangle of lies and silence, a cast of vividly memorable characters and a narrative as riveting as any thriller. Unputdownable!

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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385545686
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/13/2021
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 2,998
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

Patrick Radden Keefe is a staff writer at The New Yorker  and the author, most recently, of the New York Times bestseller Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, was selected as one of the ten best books of 2019 by The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and The Wall Street Journal, and was named one of the “10 Best Nonfiction Books of the Decade” by Entertainment Weekly. His previous books are The Snakehead and Chatter. His work has been recognized with a Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing and the Orwell Prize for Political Writing. He is also the creator and host of the eight-part podcast Wind of Change.

Table of Contents

Prologue: The Taproot 1

Book I Patriarch

1 A Good Name 11

2 The Asylum 20

3 Med Man 34

4 Penicillin for the Blues 53

5 China Fever 66

6 The Octopus 76

7 The Dendur Derby 96

8 Estrangement 108

9 Ghost Marks 120

10 To Thwart the Inevitability of Death 131

Book II Dynasty

11 Apollo 143

12 Heir Apparent 151

13 Matter of Sackler 163

14 The Ticking Clock 173

15 God of Dreams 185

16 H-Bomb 198

17 Sell, Sell, Sell 205

18 Ann Hedonia 220

19 The Pablo Escobar of the New Millennium 239

20 Take the Fall 262

Book III Legacy

21 Turks 289

22 Tamperproof 305

23 Ambassadors 317

24 It's a Hard Truth, Ain't It 332

25 Temple of Greed 350

26 Warpath 363

27 Named Defendants 378

28 The Phoenix 392

29 Un-naming 406

Afterword 435

Acknowledgments 443

A Note on Sources 446

Notes 453

Index 517

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