Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Book Review by Subhadra Jayaraman

A tale of greed, power, corruption, and capitalism. In this fascinating masterpiece of investigative journalism, Keefe lays bare the story of the infamous Sackler family, that fueled the opioid epidemic, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives in the United States.

The tale begins in New York with the three Sackler brothers – Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond – children of Jewish immigrants. Keefe begins with a primary focus on Arthur Sackler, in some sense the Godfather of this godforsaken family whose penchant for a good name in society seemed to overpower every other human characteristic in them. He describes Arthur’s sense of business, his keen observation, his thirst to win, to manipulate, and simultaneously to cunningly stay shy of the limelight, in the shadows. Arthur married allopathic medicine and aggressive marketing in a way that would change the landscape of medical practice in America forever.

Keefe maneuvers through the family, spanning multiple generations, marriages, mishaps, advances, setbacks, and mind-boggling incidents to arrive at Richard Sackler – Arthur’s nephew and Raymond’s son. By now, the Sackler family name is everywhere (in good standing, as charitable noblemen) – most of the museums and universities in America and even the Louvre in Paris, have a Sackler wing. Richard, the director of Purdue Pharma, stands at the cusp of a revolutionary development in the world of pain medication – the arrival of OxyContin – a small tablet containing pure oxycodone, a highly addictive opioid stronger than morphine.

The rest of the story is how Richard, a congenitally aggressive businessman, made OxyContin reach the hands of every American to disrupt their lives forever. He and his group at Purdue Pharma manipulated, cheated, ignored, lied, abused, mistreated, and plundered. All from a swanky glass office building in Connecticut – their malpractice doused in deceptive advertising and misleading concern.

As millions of people suffered from addiction and the medical field sagged under the economic weight of this loss, Richard Sackler said, “That’s not bad, it could have been worse.”

Keefe is a master journalist, a brilliant investigator, and an eloquent storyteller. As fact gets more bizarre than fiction, his chronicle is addictive (pun intended) and engaging – and for those of you who prefer audiobooks, Keefe has also proved a fantastic narrator.

𝑴𝒚 𝒓𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒈: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5)

Pair this with a strong black coffee and witness as this true story unfurls like a thriller. Share your thoughts with us and check out my ‘bookstagram’ @theramanlibrary for more reviews and suggestions.

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