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Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

Patrick Radden Keefe

2021


If there was ever a story that demonstrated one rule for the rich and another for the poor, this is it.

The Sackler dynasty has had a huge social prominence, with its name adorning university medical research institutes and wings of art galleries. The wealth all came from selling oxycontin, one of the most potent painkillers available and a boon to many with chronic pain. Their innovation was to own the company that developed a slow-release mechanism to allow a morphine derivative to be delivered orally. All this is a great service to humanity.

But... In Keefe's telling, the way oxycontin was sold made no attempt to ensure that it wasn't being over-prescribed or abused, and indeed targeted doctor and pharmacists who were clearly off-loading more pills that their communities could possibly need. And it's hard to believe that the company didn't know this, given that they'd also been early investors in medical information collection and analysis that could spot such patterns. The rest of the story degenerates into legal wranglings designed to keep the Sackler name out of any court decisions and away from personal blame.

It's a troubling history that taints what should have been a clear and welcome medical breakthrough by the search for enormous profits by any means.

5/5. Finished 16 October 2022.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

I Am an Island

I Am an Island

Tamsin Calidas

2020


Moving to an island is many people's dream (including mine). This is a cautionary tale of the challenges, both inflicted and self-inflicted.

Calidas and her then-husband took the hardest possible route, leaving London to start crofting with sheep and horses. That's a challenge at any time, but when utterly separated and with no friends or relative nearby it becomes almost impossible. The hostility from the locals varies in intensity from indifference to outright abuse, running into assumptions of who is "allowed" on the island and under what circumstances – a situation that becomes worse when her marriage breaks down and she nevertheless stays and attempts to make things work, something that no-one (including the local women) expects, understands, or supports.

Times change. The later parts of the book show her almost accepted and with a new influx of islanders who are less ... well, insular than the original inhabitants.

It's hard to decide what to take from this book. For a start, it's unclear how much of the hostility was triggered by Calidas and her husband themselves, not understanding the local sensibilities (although of course it's also hard to know how they'd've learned them). A lot of the tension comes from their efforts at crofting: running a shop would have been easier and perhaps less threatening to others, who felt their life was being intruded-into. But it's also an indication that moving from anonymous city life to a tiny community means adapting to a way of life that normalises surveillance and comment, and makes it difficult to remain aloof.

3/5. Finished 16 October 2022.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)