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The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2021


The Baillie Gifford Prize rewards excellence in non-fiction writing, bringing the best in intelligent reflection on the world to new readers. It covers all non-fiction in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.

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

The Baillie Gifford Prize Podcast, Read Smart, explores the increasingly popular world of non-fiction books and follows the Prize throughout the year as it unfolds. Read Smart is generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation. Learn more about the podcast here.


2021 Prize:

  • Longlist was announced on Thursday 9 September
  • Shortlist was announced on Friday 15 October
  • Winner of the prize was announced on Tuesday 16 November

The Winner

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

The Sackler name adorns the walls of many storied institutions—Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oxford, the Louvre. They are one of the richest families in the world, known for their lavish donations to the arts and the sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing a blockbuster painkiller that was the catalyst for the opioid crisis.

Empire of Pain begins with the story of three doctor brothers, Raymond, Mortimer and the incalculably energetic Arthur, who weathered the poverty of the Great Depression and appalling anti-Semitism. Working at a barbaric mental institution, Arthur saw a better way and conducted groundbreaking research into drug treatments. He also had a genius for marketing, especially for pharmaceuticals, and bought a small ad firm.

Empire of Pain is a masterpiece of narrative reporting and writing, exhaustively documented and ferociously compelling. It is a portrait of the excesses of America’s second Gilded Age, a study of impunity among the super elite and a relentless investigation of the naked greed and indifference to human suffering that built one of the world’s great fortunes.

The Longlist

Craig Brown was the winner of the 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction for One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time (Harper Collins, 4th Estate)