Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2022
Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: terrorism, mentions of rape and child sexual assault, mentions of parental death, gun violence, colonization, suicide, drug abuse, state-sanctioned violence, 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, 2016 election
Empire of Pain was among my favorite reads last year, so when I belated saw that Patrick Radden Keefe published a collection of his New Yorker articles, I knew immediately what I had to listen to next. Keefe has such a knack for contextualization and bringing the human element into stories that are known for their divisiveness and post-hoc sensationism.
I found myself enthralled by the care, research, and thought put into every snippet of some very recognizable and major cases in contemporary history, ranging from wine fraud to drug lords to pharmaceutical fraud to a beloved culinary figure.
On the whole, this is an excellent collection with which to ease into audiobook listening. Each chapter is completely self-contained, with topics explored that are contemporary enough to spark a figment of familiarity. The oldest is from 2007, and it eases the reader into the journalistic story-telling ride that unfolds. Fraud wine introduced me to the many way to test the age of wine, and that bit of contextualization made the entire story very easy to understand. The same goes for pharmaceutical stock fraud that came with bapi’s release and development (an Alzheimer’s drug that did not work at all). For readers not knowledgeable in either the pharmaceutical industry or stock-based economics, the story proved remarkably easy to follow, from the humans involved to the macro forces at play.
While Empire of Pain paints the Sacklers as the unambiguous villains of the opioid crisis in the United States, Keefe nevertheless affords the key players the humanity necessary to understand the tumbling road that got society here. The same moral complexity and ambiguity is afforded in each of his shorter pieces. I’d say the works that exemplify this the best are the stories of Amy Bishop (who shot her University of Alabama colleagues), attorney Judy Clarke (who represented Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev), and Mark Burnett (former showrunner of the apprentice who functionally got Donald Trump into our collective consciousness). Each one comes with clear theses and examines not just the primary subjects, but everyone in their orbit which such empathy.
The pieces are balanced, and none exemplifies the to-and-fro as much as the final piece of Anthony Bourdain. I had not become familiar with his travel shows until post-mortem, but Keefe catalogues Bourdain’s journey from kitchen worker to TV personality with his own empathetic spin on the cultural exchange that happens around food. The way Keefe presents the facts of Bourdain’s life lend the reader to draw their own conclusions, and I think that’s what I enjoy the most about his journalism in particular. The “how you should feel” about these is obscured by facts and intricate layering
I am definitely going to be reading Say Nothing for my next non-fiction read, and I can’t wait for whatever Keefe has ready next.