Keefe's 'revelatory' book on Sackler dynasty wins Baillie Gifford Prize

Keefe's 'revelatory' book on Sackler dynasty wins Baillie Gifford Prize

Patrick Radden Keefe has won the £50,000 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction with his "revelatory" book on the rise and fall of the Sackler dynasty Empire of Pain (Picador), which judges hailed as a "future classic". 

The winner of this year's prize was announced at an event hosted at the Science Museum on 16th November. Keefe is a staff writer at the New Yorker and author of Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (William Collins), which won the Orwell Prize for political writing in 2019.

Empire of Pain looks at three generations of the Sackler family, famed for their philanthropy, whose fortune was built by Valium and whose reputation was destroyed by the opioid OxyContin. Keefe accessed thousands of private documents and conducted more than 200 interviews for the book.

Andrew Holgate, chair of judges, said: "We were completely bowled over as a group of judges by Patrick Radden Keefe's Empire of Pain. By its moral rigour, its controlled fury, its exhaustive research, the skillful writing, the bravery it took to write it. Above all, though, by its sheer propulsive narrative energy. This is an exceptionally important story Keefe has mined in Empire of Pain, but what impressed us most was the skill with which he has told his jaw-dropping tale, and how immersive and unputdownable he has made the telling. This is journalism as outstanding literature, and what we have here is a future classic."

Mark Urquhart, senior partner at Baillie Gifford, said: “Over the past 18 months the rich and varied world of non-fiction has helped many of us escape and be transported to worlds and experiences far from our own. This is a testament to the quality and breadth of non-fiction writing being published in the UK. Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors, and especially to Patrick Keefe on winning this year’s accolade."

The book saw off competition from a shortlist featuring Cal Flyn's Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape (William Collins), Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945–1955  by Harald Jähner, translated by Shaun Whiteside (W H Allen), Things I Have Withheld by Kei Miller (Canongate), Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell by John Preston (Viking) and Free: Coming of Age at the End of History by Lea Ypi (Allen Lane).

The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction’s podcast series "Read Smart" will be releasing a winner's episode, featuring an interview with Keefe by host Razia Iqbal, available from 19th November.