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📚 What to Read Next (No. 214): The Forces of Good and the Forces of Evil
Hi there, readers!
This newsletter, along with the overall theme of good vs. evil, was drafted early in the week, before Vladimir Putin unilaterally decided to attack a friendly nation. It’s hard to know how the average person should react. . . .
In some stories, whether real or made up, those on the side of good and those on the side of evil are somewhat blurred. This is especially true in modern books, where highlighting complex characters with complicated motives is the norm.
This week’s news is not blurred. There’s not a grey zone. The right and the wrong are rather obvious. Perhaps, for now, that’s all we can do: clearly call out the dark actors in Eastern Europe. Thankfully, political leaders around the world are actively doing that, and there’s actually some hope that this colossal mistake will be the end of Putin’s power.
As I’ve said before, books have power in dark times. Whether to escape, entertain, or inform, lean into the pages.
As with the Ukrainian situation, the good and the evil in the books featured today are quite clearly identifiable. Stephen King’s The Stand is a classic epic that isn’t horror at all (as is assumed, given the author), but rather falls into the apocalyptic and fantasy genres. And in Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain, one of the real-life villains of the modern world—not named Putin—is exposed in spectacular fashion.
Up first, a newsletter recommendation.
A Fellow Substacker to Follow: Mohnish’s Discovery Magazine
Mohnish doesn’t publish all that frequently (monthly-ish), but when he does, I always pay attention. His recommendations are so earnest and passionate that you can’t help but want to read or watch whatever he’s reading or watching.
From his about page:
“I try to maximize for one thing: If I died today—got hit by a bus, fell off the side of a cliff, whatever—would I regret if I hadn’t seen it? Would I regret if I hadn’t read this book?
That’s what this list is about. Finding (and discovering) the best stuff before I fall off the side of a cliff.”
Go subscribe. It’s totally free. And I can vouch that Mohnish is a great guy.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe
Published: 2021 | Pages: 442
A few years back I read Dopesick and was pretty floored by the realities of the American opioid crisis. Not only was the problem more widespread than I, or anyone, initially realized, there was basically a single villainous family at the heart of it: the Sacklers. Author Beth Macy gets somewhat into that family’s story, but really focuses on the victims and the doctors/lawyers fighting against the tidal wave of pills and addiction. (Side note: the Hulu show of the same name is excellent.)
In Patrick Radden Keefe’s latest masterpiece, he delves into the Sackler family specifically: their entrepreneurial origins, their surprising entrance into the medical and pharmaceutical world, their slow takeover of the opioid industry, and their diabolical pursuit of wealth—cold hard cash—at the cost of millions of lives and families around the world.
The early family history is interesting enough, but the real drama comes with the most recent generations of Sacklers. It reads like a great Shakespearean drama, rife with familial infighting, backstabbing, oath-breaking, and conniving.
Radden Keefe researched and told this story at great personal risk; the Sacklers are notorious for litigating the pants right off anyone who comes after them. That fact alone makes the reporting and storytelling all the more powerful and meaningful. He’s doing some serious journalism in this book.
And his case is clear: the Sacklers knew exactly how destructive and addictive their drugs were (and are), sold them in higher and higher doses using purposefully deceptive tactics, and didn’t give two shits about any of the consequences.
As a privately held company, the family lined their own pockets with hundreds of millions of dollars, and acquired all the trappings you’d expect: islands, mansions, servants, private airplanes, and most despicably, political power.
Empire of Pain is an urgent plea for justice and, along with Dopesick, will someday be known as a foundational piece of reporting on America’s opioid era. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.
One last note here: I actually listened to the audiobook, excellently narrated by Radden Keefe himself. His voice and narration are pitch-perfect; definitely go that route if you’re an audiobook person.
The Stand by Stephen King
“Although it has never been my favorite novel, it is the one people who like my books seem to like the most.” —King, in the preface to The Stand
My latest Stephen King review is published over at StephenKingReader.com. I gotta say, 1970s Stephen King kicked off his publishing career with a real bang. Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, and newly reviewed, The Stand, are all counted among his best works.
The story here is a classic tale of good versus evil on the most epic terms—King calls it “a long tale of dark Christianity”—using a pandemic as the foundation for that plot. A government-created super flu, nicknamed Captain Trips, has accidentally escaped the lab. It spreads incredibly quickly and easily, eventually killing over 99% of the population. From there, it morphs from an apocalyptic story to being more in the realm of fantasy.
Obviously, it carries a bit more meaning being read in the midst of an actual pandemic.
For being one of the longest books you’ll ever come across, The Stand is incredibly readable and very rarely boring. The characters are easy to root for, the story is gripping and surprisingly believable, and the world-building is nearly incomparable.
All around, The Stand is not only a great book, but a dynamic, memorable reading experience too. It’ll stay with me for a looong time coming.
Check out the full review, including the interesting writing and publishing history:
Thanks so much for the time and inbox space—I deeply appreciate it.
Let me know what you’re reading this week!