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Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

Thursday, April 15, 2021 - 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm | Cost: FREE


Join us on Thursday, April 15 at 6pm PT when Patrick Radden Keefe is joined by Jane Mayer to discuss his latest book, Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, on Zoom!

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About Empire of Pain

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, by the prize-winning, bestselling author of Say Nothing

The Sackler name adorns 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. 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.

About Patrick Radden Keefe

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.

About Jane Mayer

Jane Mayer is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of three bestselling and critically acclaimed narrative nonfiction books. She co-authored Landslide: The Unmaking of the President, 1984–1988, with Doyle McManus, and Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, with Jill Abramson, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, for which she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, was named one of The New York Times’s Top 10 Books of the Year and won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the Goldsmith Book Prize, the Edward Weintal Prize, the Ridenhour Prize, the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. It was also a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. For her reporting at The New Yorker, Mayer has been awarded the John Chancellor Award, the George Polk Award, the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting, and the I. F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence presented by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard. Mayer lives in Washington, D.C.

Disclaimer: Please double check event information with the event organizer as events can be canceled, details can change after they are added to our calendar, and errors do occur.


Event Details


Cost: FREE
Categories: *Top Pick*, Literature, Online

Thursday, April 15, 2021

11:00 am   SF Performances’ Theo Bleckmann’s “Duet for One”  FREE*
*Free online.
11:30 am   Post Pandemic Parenting: The Uncharted Road to Normalcy  FREE
3:00 pm   “Mission Community Market” Night Farmers Market (SF)  FREE
4:00 pm   “Party Games Night” Monthly Online Game Night  FREE
6:00 pm   Handmade COVID Cards Workshop w/ (415) Public Gallery  FREE*
*RSVP through Eventbrite link
6:00 pm   SFMOMA Virtual “Art Bash 2021” Concert & Dance Party w/ Tycho  FREE*
*Free to all, but donations appreciated
6:00 pm   Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty  FREE
6:00 pm   Virtual Author Event with Carol Edgarian  FREE
6:00 pm   “An Hour of Knots” Virtual Class  $25*
*$25+ RSVP required
6:00 pm   1-Hour “Impact Bay Area” Intro to Personal Safety Virtual Class  FREE*
*Donation $0-30
6:00 pm   Virtual Art Opening: (415) Public Gallery Crowdsourced Art Show  FREE*
*RSVP through Eventbrite link
7:00 pm   Exploratorium’s After Dark Online: Listening to the Environment  FREE
7:00 pm   “ARTogether” Virtual Artist Talk: Meet the Artists of Overlap  FREE
7:00 pm   “The Fools of April” at The Bar on Dolores  FREE*
*2 menu items purchase required + tips for comics
7:00 pm   Exploratorium After Dark Online: Listening to the Environment  FREE
7:00 pm   Cal Performances Bach Classical Piano Concert Premiere  $15*
*$15 for a single viewer, $30 for two viewers, and $60 per household viewing. $5 tickets are available for UC Berkeley students.
7:00 pm   Thu 7p Show – “HellaSecret” Outdoor Comedy Show & Cocktail Night (SF)  $15*
*Get $5 off Tickets - Early Bird tickets $15 adv w/ code FUNCHEAP (otherwise $20). General Admission tickets $20 adv with code FUNCHEAP (otherwise $25) - limited to 40 tickets due to maintain social-distance. There is a two drink minimum
7:30 pm   Thu 7:30p Show – “HellaSecret” Outdoor Comedy Show & Cocktail Night (Oakland)  $15*
*Get $5 off Tickets - Early Bird tickets $15 adv w/ code FUNCHEAP (otherwise $20). General Admission tickets $20 adv with code FUNCHEAP (otherwise $25) - limited to 40 tickets due to maintain social-distance. There is a two drink minimum
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