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.
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.
PRAISE FOR EMPIRE OF PAIN
“A true tragedy in multiple acts. It is the story of a family that lost its moorings and its morals… 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.” - David M. Shribman, The Boston Globe
“A brutal, multigenerational treatment of the Sackler family… Keefe deepens the narrative by tracing the family's ambitions and ruthless methods back to the founding patriarch, Arthur Sackler…His life might be a model for the American dream, if it hadn't arguably laid the foundations for a still-unfolding national tragedy.” - Brian Mann, NPR.org
“An engrossing and deeply reported book about the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma. Their company created Oxycontin, the opioid introduced in the mid-90s that sent a wave of addiction and death across the country. Unlike previous books on the epidemic, Empire of Pain is focused on the wildly rich, ambitious and cutthroat family that built its empire first on medical advertising and later on painkillers. In his hands, their story becomes a great American morality tale about unvarnished greed dressed in ostentatious philanthropy.” —Time Magazine, The Best Books of 2021 So Far