Patrick Radden Keefe

Bestselling Author of "Empire of Pain," "Rogues," and "Say Nothing" | New Yorker Staff Writer
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Patrick Radden Keefe is a master investigative journalist and storyteller, whose ground breaking reporting has exposed the Sackler family for their role in the opioid crisis and identified the culprit in a notorious, decades-old murder. In his lively talks, he offers a colorful and often funny behind-the-scenes look at the sagas he has spent his career exploring, and makes an inspiring case for the power of old-fashioned storytelling. 

"I read everything he writes. Every time he writes a book, I read it. Every time he writes an article, I read it...He's a national treasure." —Rachel Maddow

"The literary style of New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe is iconic...Keefe delivers masterpieces." —Oprah Daily 

Patrick Radden Keefe is a longtime staff writer at the New Yorker and the bestselling author of five books, which have been published into 24 languages. Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, a New York Times bestseller, received the 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize for the best nonfiction book published in the English language, and was shortlisted for the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year. His reporting on the Sacklers inspired the hit Netflix series Painkiller, on which he was an executive producer; the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary Crime of the Century, for which he served as a consultant and one of the chief on-camera voices; and the Oscar-nominated film All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, in which he appeared on camera. 

Keefe's international bestseller Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland  received the National Book Critics' Circle Award, the Orwell Prize for Political Writing, and the Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations for the best book on foreign affairs. It was named one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Chicago Tribune, and one of the ten best nonfiction books of the decade by Entertainment Weekly. Both Say Nothing and Empire of Pain were selected by Barack Obama for his list of favorite books of the year. In 2024, FX will release a dramatic limited series based on Say Nothing, which Keefe executive produced. His earlier book, The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream, about global migration and the underground empire of Sister Ping, a human smuggler in New York's Chinatown, is currently in development as a dramatic series from A24. 

In 2020, Keefe was the creator and host of the 8-part investigative podcast Wind of Change, about the stranger convergence of Cold War espionage and heavy metal music. The series was named the #1 podcast of the year by the Guardian and Entertainment Weekly and became an international hit for Spotify. It received two Webby Awards and three Ambie Awards from the Podcast Academy, including “Best Host,” and generated over 10 million downloads.

Most recently, Keefe released the New York Times bestseller Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels, and Crooks, a collection of twelve of his most celebrated New Yorker  stories, which illustrates his "immense skill as a storyteller," according to NPR. "It's highly entertaining," the Los Angeles Times observed," but what shines through most brightly is Keefe's fascination with what makes us human even when we're at our most imperfect." 

In addition to the New Yorker, Patrick Radden Keefe’s work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, New York Times Magazine, Slate, and numerous other publications, and he is a frequent commentator on NPR, the BBC, and MSNBC. He is a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing and was twice a finalist for the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the New America Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, and the New York Institute for the Humanities.

Topics

The Power of Narrative

According to the Los Angeles Times, "A new book by Keefe means drop everything and close the blinds; you'll be turning the pages for hours." In this wide-ranging, personal talk, Keefe discusses the importance of storytelling: why we love it, and how to do it well. Humans are hard-wired to process complex information more effectively when it is presented as a narrative—a drama about characters and conflict. With revealing anecdotes about his adventures as an investigative reporter, writing about everyone from the narco baron Chapo Guzman to the mega art dealer Larry Gagosian to the late chef and television host Anthony Bourdain, Keefe makes an impassioned case for the importance of knowing how to tell a good story, whatever industry you might be in. He describes how he sorts through years of research, hundreds of pages of interview notes, and thousands of court files in search of the narrative threads to spin all that material into a great yarn. The fundamental questions at the heart of this kind of writing (Where does my story begin and end? How much detail is too much? What are my inflection points and themes?) are the same faced by anyone who has to write a memo, or deliver a presentation, or give a speech at a wedding. Keefe imparts five simple lessons he has learned over a two-decade career about how to structure and sustain an irresistible tale.

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Empire of Pain: Uncovering the Secrets of the Sackler Family

Drawing on his definitive work of narrative reporting, Keefe shares the secret history of the Sacklers, a prominent philanthropic dynasty and one of the wealthiest families in the world, whose fortune was built on Valium and whose reputation was destroyed by OxyContin—the highly addictive painkiller that helped precipitate the opioid crisis. In this talk, Keefe tells a sweeping story, tracing three generations of the Sackler family, from immigrant Brooklyn during the Great Depression to the 1990s, when OxyContin started generating billions of dollars a year, to the ultimate downfall, when Purdue Pharma was dissolved in bankruptcy and the Sacklers became pariahs and their name was stripped from the walls of prominent institutions, from Oxford University to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Filled with arresting behind-the-scenes details and enlivened by Keefe's deadpan wit, this talk explores the way in which greed and arrogance caused a family and its company to lose their way, with devastating results.

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Say Nothing: Solving a Decades-Old Murder

One night in 1972, a widowed mother of ten named Jean McConville was dragged from her home in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by a gang of masked intruders, and never seen again. In Say Nothing, which FX is adapting as a dramatic limited series for release in 2024, Patrick Radden Keefe uses the mystery of McConville's disappearance to tell a broader story about the history of the long and bitter conflict known as the Troubles. Weaving together intimate stories of both victims and perpetrators, Keefe explores profound questions about the nature of political violence, how young people become radicalized and take up arms, and how trauma and irresolution can linger, long after a conflict ends. In this talk, Keefe tells the story of what happened to Jean McConville and how it continues to haunt Northern Ireland even today, with Brexit reigniting old antagonisms. He makes an eloquent argument about the way in which the past is never really the past, and how history can bedevil the present. He also relates the extraordinary story of how, after four years of investigation, he managed to solve the puzzle of Jean McConville's death, and to identify her killer — someone who is still alive and had never been a suspect in the case.

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Bad Company: Business Ethics in the Era of Corporate Impunity

Patrick Radden Keefe has always been interested in the business models of criminal enterprises; he once wrote a cover story for the New York Times Magazine that was "Harvard Business School Case Study of a Mexican drug cartel." But he has also written extensively about legitimate corporations that commit crimes: a major hedge fund awash in insider trading, a global bank that did business with drug cartels, a pharmaceutical company that lied about the dangers of its blockbuster drug. In this talk, Keefe discusses the surprising affinities between crooks who act like businesspeople and businesspeople who act like crooks. He relates entertaining anecdotes about his experiences interviewing drug barons, whistleblowers, and CEOs, and illustrates the importance of ethical leadership and institutional culture in spotting red flags and keeping companies on the right side of the line. The least dull compliance lecture you will ever attend.

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Rogues

In 2022, Patrick Radden Keefe published Rogues, a New York Times bestselling greatest hits collection covering 15 years of his magazine writing, which has been recognized with a National Magazine Award. In this talk, Keefe reveals that ever since he was a kid, his dream was to write for The New Yorker. He relates the circuitous route he had to take before finally ending up at the magazine, and recounts some of the more bizarre and memorable moments of his career, from the time the drug lord Chapo Guzman asked if Keefe would ghostwrite his memoir, to the trip he took to Vietnam with Anthony Bourdain, to his intense encounters with the parents of the mass shooter Amy Bishop. Moving, suspenseful, and darkly funny, this talk is a reporter opening his notebook and sharing the surprising highlights of a globe-trotting career chasing great stories.

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Videos

Dua Lipa in Conversation with Patrick Radden Keefe
Patrick Radden Keefe
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty
Patrick Radden Keefe
'An uninvited guest -- the past
Patrick Radden Keefe
Legal Threats and Imtimidation
Patrick Radden Keefe
How a Dutch Gangster was Betrayed by His Sister | The Backstory | The New Yorker
Patrick Radden Keefe
Author of "Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland"
Patrick Radden Keefe
Book Looks at Sackler Family and How They Made Billions From OxyContin | TODAY
Patrick Radden Keefe
Some members of Sackler family under fire over ties to opioids
Patrick Radden Keefe
Book on conflict in Northern Ireland contains a plot twist that surprised the author | PBS NewsHour
Patrick Radden Keefe
The Opioid Crisis | Peter Attia MD
Patrick Radden Keefe

Articles

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A Teen's Fatal Plunge Into The London Underworld
The New Yorker
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How a Script Doctor Found His Own Voice
The New Yorker
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How Larry Gagosian Reshaped The Art World
The New Yorker
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The Family That Built an Empire of Pain
The New Yorker

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