The National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland returns with another tale of secrets, this time about the now-notorious family behind Valium and OxyContin—a multigenerational saga that begins at the turn of the century among hardscrabble immigrants in Brooklyn and dissolves in 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.
Keefe nimbly guides us through the thicket of family intrigues and betrayals ... Even when detailing the most sordid episodes, Keefe’s narrative voice is calm and admirably restrained, allowing his prodigious reporting to speak for itself. His portrait of the family is all the more damning for its stark lucidity. Amid all the venality and hypocrisy, one of the terrible ironies that emerges from Empire of Pain is how the Sacklers would privately rage about the poor impulse control of 'abusers' while remaining blind to their own.
... masterfully damning ... Empire of Pain, Keefe explains in his afterword, is a dynastic saga. Like Purdue, it is all about the Sackler family: how it transformed American medicine, the key role it played in the opioid crisis ... Empire of Pain amply demonstrates that Arthur [Sackler] created the playbook used to make OxyContin a blockbuster drug ... Keefe has a knack for crafting lucid, readable descriptions of the sort of arcane business arrangements the Sacklers favored. He is also indefatigable.
Written with novelistic family-dynasty and family-dynamic sweep, Empire of Pain is a pharmaceutical Forsythe Saga, a book that in its way is addictive, with a page-turning forward momentum. We see the Sacklers moving from marketing to entrepreneurship to art collecting to philanthropy to ignominy. It is an American story, and an American tragedy—and travesty ... thanks in large part to Keefe, the anonymity of the principals behind OxyContin not only is shattered, the fog that has shrouded the entire sad episode also has been stripped away.