The Winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2021


The winner of the 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction is Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe, published by Picador.

The announcement was made at the winner event hosted at the Science Museum and generously supported by The Blavatnik Family Foundation. Watch the full ceremony here.


Empire of Pain details the calculated acts of one of the most prominent philanthropic families of the 20th & 21st centuries. Formerly known for their generous donations to global arts institutions, Keefe explores how the Sackler family’s wealth is truly rooted in corruption, greed, ruthless ambition, and the devastating opioid crisis that swept the United States.

Patrick Radden Keefe is an award-winning staff writer at the New Yorker and the author of Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, as well as two previous critically-acclaimed books, The Snakehead, and Chatter. He is the recipient of the 2014 National Magazine Award for Feature Writing, was a finalist for the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 2015 and 2016, and also received a Guggenheim Fellowship. He grew up in Boston and now lives in New York. He is also the creator and host of the eight-part podcast, Wind of Change, which is set to be adapted into a TV series for Hulu.

The winner was chosen by a panel chaired by Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate, alongside award-winning novelist Sara Collins, physicist, oceanographer, writer and broadcaster Dr. Helen Czerski, historian and author Kathryn Hughes, author and TV and radio presenter Johny Pitts, and historian and writer Dominic Sandbrook.

Andrew Holgate, chair of the judges, says:
“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.”

The other titles on this year’s shortlist were:

Check out The Baillie Gifford Prize on to purchase these books from your local independent bookstore.

READ SMART, the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction’s podcast, will release an episode devoted to the winner of the 2021 award, hosted by Razia Iqbal and featuring Patrick Radden Keefe. It will be available on Friday 19 November.

Read Smart Podcast is commissioned by The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction and is generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

Listen to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Entale.

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