A definitive, damning, urgent tale of overweening avarice at tremendous cost to society.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2021

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist



Richly researched account of the Sackler pharmaceutical dynasty, agents of the opioid-addiction epidemic that plagues us today.

In his latest excellent book, Keefe opens in a conference room packed with lawyers, all there to depose “a woman in her early seventies, a medical doctor, though she had never actually practiced medicine.” Kathe Sackler, thanks to the invention of a drug called OxyContin, was a member of one of the wealthiest families in the world, holding some $14 billion. The founder of that dynasty had established numerous patterns that held for generations. Though he had insisted that family philanthropy be prominently credited “through elaborate ‘naming rights’ contracts,” the family name would not extend to their pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma. The family would also not accept responsibility for any untoward effects that its products might have. Thus, when asked whether she acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of Americans had become addicted to OxyContin, Kathe answered, “I don’t know the answer to that.” Keefe turns up plenty of answers, including the details of how the Sacklers—the first generation of three brothers, followed by their children and grandchildren—marketed their goods, beginning with “ethical drugs” (as distinct from illegal ones) to treat mental illness, Librium and then Valium, which were effectively the same thing but were advertised as treating different maladies: “If Librium was the cure for ‘anxiety,’ Valium should be prescribed for ‘psychic tension.’ ” By Keefe’s reckoning, by the mid-1970s, Valium was being prescribed 60 million times per year, resulting in fantastic profits for Purdue. OxyContin followed in 1996—and then the opioid crisis, responsibility for which has been heavily litigated and for which the Sacklers finally filed bankruptcy even though they “remained one of the wealthiest families in the United States.” Of particular interest is the book-closing account of the Sacklers’ legal efforts to intimidate the author as he tried to make his way through the “fog of collective denial” that shrouded them.

A definitive, damning, urgent tale of overweening avarice at tremendous cost to society.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54568-6

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.


A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

Did you like this book?