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Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

4.43  ·  Rating details ·  1,593 Ratings  ·  288 Reviews
The first definitive account of the infamous 1971 Attica prison uprising, the state’s violent response, and the victims' decades-long quest for justice including information never released to the public published to coincide with the forty-fifth anniversary of this historic event.

On September 9, 1971, nearly 1,300 prisoners took over the Attica Correctional Facility in ups
Hardcover, 752 pages
Published August 23rd 2016 by Pantheon Books
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Alan Mills
Just finished Heather Ann Thompson's Blood in the Water. It is absolutely essential to understanding the history of prisons in the US, and mass incarceration more generally. Professor Thompson spent a decade fighting for access to the long hidden records, and painstakingly reviewing the evidence to find out what really happened. Her investment in time, blood, sweat and tears has paid off for the reader!

45 years ago, prisoners took over an exercise yard at Attica prison, after months of having th
Steven Z.
Nov 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
On September 9, 1971 the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York forced its way into newspaper headlines across the United States. On that day roughly 1300 prisoners took control of the facility in response to years of mistreatment and harassment. In American history there have been many violent protests that have led to the death or wounding of those who took part. Whether they involved Native-Americans, Vietnam anti-war demonstrators, organized labor, or Afro-Americans the causes and ...more
Feb 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible
This book has won numerous awards, including the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for History. It tells the story of the Attica Prison uprising in 1971, when a riot led to a group of prisoners taking several hostages and resulting in a tense standoff, with negotiations going on for days.

The author is at pains to explain that much evidence has been kept secret since the events occurred; leading to family members of those involved having unanswered questions for many years. She claims to have interviewed every
Book Riot Community
I have been fascinated by the story of the prison uprising since I was little and saw Al Pacino chanting “Attica!” in Dog Day Afternoon. Despite being a famous event, it has taken over forty years for some of the documents on Attica to be unsealed. Thompson has collected all that information and written a definitive account of the bloody uprising, from the perspectives of both the prisoners and the law enforcement. It is a horrifying, fascinating read on the historical mistreatment of inmates, a ...more
Dec 09, 2016 rated it liked it
(3.5 stars) This is is difficult one to rate. It is exhaustively researched and the level of detail Thompson reconstructs is remarkable. However, I found it to be a fairly exhausting read. There's very little gesture towards crafting a compelling narrative. Dramatic, consequential moments are plowed over in the same just-the-facts reporting style as quotidian court motions. Furthermore, a book that purports to be about the 1971 uprising's "legacy" could have benefited greatly from Thompson takin ...more
Steve Peifer
Oct 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is an absolutely astonishing book. At first, the pro prisoner point of view threw me off, but the evidence is presented in a way that makes the case that the government killed most of the hostages through an ill conceived attack to retake the prison, and then lied and covered up the evidence. I can't imagine the research it took to create this book, but she is as great of writer as she is a researcher. The chapters leading up to the siege create a foreboding that was unparalleled in my non ...more
People will agree and disagree with this book, but the real question is, "will we treat each other as human?"
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, february
One of the most difficult books I have ever read -- I found myself, throughout the first half, needing to put the book down and take a break, because of the enormity of the suffering of the prisoners of Attica and the callousness of the State of New York. It's hard, heartbreaking reading. Throughout, though, Thompson's excellent writing, dogged research, and respect for both the prisoners and the hostages of the uprising compels you to keep going. An incredibly important book.
Feb 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Heather Ann Thompson’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Blood in the Water” about the 1971 uprising at New York’s Attica prison was an extremely difficult book to read. This had nothing to do with the writing which was exceptional throughout and managed to express the feelings of many different groups deeply invested in what happened there. Rather it is the treatment of the inmates (primarily Black and Hispanic) before, during, and after the uprising that was deeply unsettling. Faced with severe overcro ...more
Barry Sierer
May 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
An impressive work by Ms. Thompson.
Jan 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Only way to describe this is brutal. Descriptions of the riot itself get pretty gruesome. The level of torture described is absolutely horrifying and unreal.
Thought the coverage of the prisoner trials was a little too meticulous - even I got a little bored reading procedure. But, the selective prosecutorial decisions and shielding of officers from liability, and the subsequent civil class action case were very interesting.
Nov 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Remarkable book, unearthing the actual story behind the Attica prison riots for the first time ever, and also doing much to explain why it took so long. The first few chapters detail unbelievable brutality before, during and after the uprising; the good faith of the prisoners is in sharp contrast to the lies and murderous violence of the state. Some of these guys were murders (some were not, some were there because of minor parole violations) and they come off as much more honorable than the pri ...more
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourite-books
America in 1971 was a country in the midst of massive social uprisings. The Civil Rights and Black Nationalist movements, the Anti-War Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement and all the organizations that were central to these were shaping public debates in all corners of society. The American prison system was no exception. As jails and prisons faced endemic overcrowding and poor conditions, inmates quickly flocked to radical political ideas wanting to bring the power of human liberation to ...more
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well researched and well presented, but scary to read how a government, and *supposed* law enforcers can so blatantly abuse, torture and kill, and not be held accountable. Some justice was finally meted out 30 years later but most of it was to little too soon, or not at all. A book well worth reading but so hard to fathom and accept.
Helga Cohen
This very much deserved book was the winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in History. This is a definitive history of the infamous and horrible 1971 Attica Prison uprising. It is a story that needs to be told and read by everyone. It told of the state of New York’s violent response that lead to killings and injuries and then lies and cover up’s and it told of the victims more than 45 year quest for justice and truth.

On Sept 9, 1971, nearly 1300 prisoners took over the Attica correctional Facility t
Apr 16, 2017 rated it liked it
The first third of the book describing the riot, the stand-off, and the retaking of the prison is excellent - I would recommend Blood in the Water based on those pages alone. I found the rest of book that covers the subsequent trials and settlements less effective and engaging. At times I felt the author downplayed or at least de-emphasized the violence committed by the prisoners. That violence in no way excuses the actions of law enforcement during the retaking of the prison or the subsequent c ...more
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I must admit I knew little about Attica; I knew there had been a prison riot. In her meticulously and voluminously documented history, Thompson has a case to make, and she makes it brilliantly and convincingly. She argues that the prisoners rioted for some good reasons-conditions in the prison were dire (punishments cruel and arbitrary, medical care, and even food, hopelessly and cruelly inadequate). And that then that some of them acted barbarically during and immediately after the riot. But th ...more
Carlos Contente
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a difficult book to read, albeit, in a good sense. It is incredibly well written and it is a prime example of narrative history. "Blood in the Water" does an excellent job of tracing the entirety of the Attica Riot- beginning with a history of conditions at the prison and then moving onward through the riot itself, the negotiations, the re-taking of the prison by the New York State Police, and the subsequent legal battles. A cursory glance at the notes in the end of the book reveals tha ...more
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
WOW. This is a completely nonpartisan exploration of the 1971 riot at Attica and its ultimate influence on the tough on crime, law and order politics of the 80s and 90s which fueled the development of mass incarceration. This book was frustrating, revealing, challenging, and utterly shocking. This is an essential read for anyone with any interest in prison reform- it is a little dense for someone uninterested in the topic, however it will undoubtedly benefit anyone who reads it.
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was an extremely powerful and upsetting book about Attica, and also the state of prisons and government's obstructionism when it comes to helping people it has wronged. I highly recommend this book for anyone who thinks the government cares about them.
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Comprehensive and shocking.
Skip Ferderber
Oct 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
The bloody 1971 events at New York's Attica prison are virtually unknown today If nothing else, Al Pacino's bellowing "Attica! Attica" to cheering crowds in the 1975 film "Dog Day Afternoon" is about as close to a present-day remembrance of that awful day and the more than 40 years of mendacity, cover-ups and high crimes that reached into the highest offices of the State of New York.

But there is a Rosetta stone: Heather Ann Thompson's remarkable "Blood in The Water: The Attica Prison uprising of
Sep 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps this was not the best time for me to have chosen to read this book, a time when our culture is in upheaval due to a struggle to shed light on and, it is hoped, to eliminate a routine of black citizens being brutalized and killed by police officers, a time when we are in the last few weeks of a presidential election campaign in which one very popular candidate has encouraged and accepted the adulation of white supremacists throughout our nation.

But this is when I chose to read it, and I'
Dana Sweeney
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is an absolutely indispensable puzzle piece for readers who want to understand the history of police brutality, mass incarceration, and public conceptions of criminality.

Blood in the Water is a deeply researched, accessible, first-of-its-kind look into what actually happened during the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971. It is based on the author’s extensive interviews with survivors from the prison yard, with former corrections officers, with members of the negotiation team, with members
Eric Lotke
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Everybody please read this book. It’s hard to overstate how good it is.

Blood in the Water gets five stars for research, five stars for storytelling, and five stars for cultural importance. Is that fifteen stars out of five? Fine by me. It’s a history book of an inherently interesting event that reads like a thriller. Deaths, teargas and cover ups. Heroes and villains at every level, from the prison yard to the governor’s mansion. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Blood in the Water tells the s
Ted Hunt
Nov 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a very powerful book, not just for the impressive detail that it provides about this tragic episode in American history, but because of the way that it informs a number of important issues in contemporary American life. The author was able (through a lucky break) to get her hands on a measure trove of information about the Attica prison riot that had been buried for years, and she tells the entire tale, not just of the events of September, 1971, but of the years, decades actually, of lit ...more
Dec 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fun, history
This is a big book and I mean that in every way. BLOOD IN THE WATER is an incredible, detailed account of the 1971 Attica Prison uprising and its aftermath. I must admit that, prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about Attica and most of what I did know was filtered through popular culture ("Dog Day Afternoon," etc). What a harrowing, eye-opening book this is. The events at Attica were more violent, more cruel, and more complicated than I expected. At several points while I was rea ...more
AJ Strosahl
Oct 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is a masterpiece; it is also absolutely excruciating to read. I knew very little about Attica before reading it, and the parade of abject suffering and injustice was hard to stomach, particularly considering how things have only gotten worse with the mass incarceration crisis in the US. The book is also a testament to human strength and capacity for rebuilding and coming together after collective trauma- the prisoners and hostages who were murdered, maimed and tortured by the New York ...more
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Blood in the Water won the Pulitzer Prize in History, and deservingly so. It's an excellent, vital, and thoroughly disturbing account of the infamous Attica Prison Uprising of 1971—when over a thousand prisoners seized control of the prison in order to protest long years of mistreatment at the hands of prison guards—and its aftermath. Heather Ann Thompson uses the uprising and its brutal suppression as a lens through which to examine issues of racism, mass incarceration, and state brutality (bot ...more
Phil Overeem
May 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Infuriating. Though I must say that my belief in the basic goodness of humanity was rocked to the core numerous times (by the actions/inactions of public officials and the sheer bloodletting madness of the NY State Police), it was partially restored by the efforts of inmates to improve their conditions, protect, feed, and maintain the health of their hostages (in vain, for nine of them), and the strivings of an organized network of lawyers and legal assistants to make sure the Attica rebels had ...more
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HEATHER ANN THOMPSON is an award-winning historian at the University of Michigan. She has written on the history of mass incarceration, as well as its current impact, for The New York Times, Time, The Atlantic, Salon, Dissent, New Labor Forum, and The Huffington Post. She served on a National Academy of Sciences blue-ribbon panel that studied the causes and consequences of mass incarcerations in t ...more
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“Twenty-one-year-old Chris Reed was gunned down with four bullets, including one that “exploded and took out a big chunk “of his left thigh. He listened in terror as troopers debated in front of him whether to kill him or let him bleed to death. As they discussed this the troopers had fun jamming their rifle butts into his injuries and dumping lime onto his face and injured legs, until he fell unconscious.” 1 likes
“Ultimately, the human cost of the retaking was staggeringly high: 128 men were shot—some of them multiple times.75 Less than half an hour after the retaking had commenced, nine hostages were dead and at least one additional hostage was close to death. Twenty-nine prisoners had been fatally shot.76” 1 likes
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