Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe. New Yorker writer Keefe won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction in 2019 for Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland. Now, he moves from the Irish Troubles to the opiod crisis with a devastating portrait of the Sackler family, famed for their philanthropy, whose fortune was built by Valium and whose reputation was destroyed by OxyContin. It's a rags-to-riches story that turns chilling as three generations of the Sacklers accrue great wealth, status, and the hubris that often accompanies both.

The book's early focus is on three Sackler brothers, in particular, Arthur, an advertising and marketing wizard whose work on drugs like Librium and Valium in the early 1960s made him and the family rich. His tactics included marketing directly to doctors, using free samples and expense-account lunches as inducements, embellishing the benefits of the drugs while ignoring or playing down potential and actual hazards, and devising ways around the FDA's ban on pharmaceutical companies advertising directly to consumers. That marketing game plan that Arthur Sackler masterminded - co-opting doctors, influencing the FDA, and downplaying a drug's addictiveness - proved to be a model for future Sackler generations. It proved most effective with the family's launch of OxyContin - a product that generated billions of dollars in revenue... and led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Empire of Pain also chronicles the multiple investigations of the Sacklers and their company, and the scorched-earth legal tactics that the family has used to evade accountability and the calculated use of money to burnish reputations and crush the less powerful. It's a well-researched and well-reported narrative about a family whose enormous wealth and equally enormous lack of responsibility or sympathy for what they have wrought are both staggering.