Patrick Radden Keefe’s investigation of the Sacklers, the dynasty whose company Purdue Pharma sold the painkiller OxyContin that allegedly fueled the opioid crisis in the United States, won the Baillie Gifford Prize of £ 50,000 for non- fiction.
Keefe, who said he was subjected to surveillance and threats of legal action while writing Empire of Pain, has beaten titles such as Harald Jähner’s take on life in Germany after WWII , Aftermath, and poet and novelist Kei Miller’s collection of essays, Things I Have. Withheld, to win the prize. The Baillie Gifford is the UK’s top prize for non-fiction, won in the past by writers like Antony Beevor and Barbara Demick.
“We were completely overwhelmed as a group of judges by Empire of Pain. By its moral rigor, its controlled fury, its exhaustive research, the skillful writing, the bravery it took to write it. But above all, by its pure propulsive narrative energy, ”said Judge President Andrew Holgate.
The book delves into the history of the Sackler family, examining how a dynasty once known for its significant philanthropic donations to artistic institutions derived much of its wealth from the manufacturing and marketing of OxyContin, a pain reliever on highly addictive prescription.
Keefe, a New Yorker editor who previously won the Orwell Prize for Say Nothing, his IRA investigation into the 1972 IRA murder of Jean McConville, accessed thousands of private documents while writing Empire of Pain, realizing more of 200 interviews to tell his story.
“While I was doing my reporting, there were times my eyes popped out of my head. I was shocked. I kept thinking that I couldn’t be more shocked. Then I would be, ”he told The Observer earlier this year.
Keefe told NPR that the Sacklers had “really put a lot of energy into trying to thwart this project from its inception,” sending legal letters and threatening legal action. “I had a moment last summer when my house was under surveillance by a private investigator. You know, I can’t say for sure that the Sacklers sent it. But I can tell you that I was not working on any other project at the time and when I asked them, in fact, in a request for comment if they were responsible for this, they refused to comment, ”a- he declared.
Holgate said the story Keefe exploited in Empire of Pain was of exceptional importance, also praising “the skill with which he told his breathtaking story, and how immersive he made the narrative. and flawless “.
“It’s journalism as exceptional literature, and what we have here is a future classic,” said Holgate, literary editor of The Sunday Times, who was joined on the jury by novelist Sara Collins, the physicist and writer Dr Helen Czerski. , historians Kathryn Hughes and Dominic Sandbrook, and author and host Johny Pitts.
Last year’s award was won by Craig Brown for his Beatles biography, One, Two, Three, Four.