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A Time to Die: The Attica Prison Revolt Paperback – October 11, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“It’s a grim sign of our dark times that Tom Wicker’s A Time to Die is now more timely than ever. Almost four decades after this book revealed to the world both the horrid conditions that led to the Attica prison revolt and the ensuing carnage and torture carried out by New York State authorities, America’s prison system has evolved into one of the most hideous and massive violations of human rights on our planet today. Wicker’s role at Attica was a life-changing experience for him, and this book he published in 1975 seemed at the time to be an alarming wake-up call for the nation. Now that this great work is back in print, Wicker’s vision can help make the nation confront the roots and realities of the twenty-first-century American prison.”
—H. Bruce Franklin, author of Prison Literature in America and editor of Prison Writing in 20th-Century America

“The Attica rebellion and Rockefeller-sanctioned massacre occurred forty years ago. Tom Wicker’s story though could not be more vital today in the United States, where we have ten times the number of prisoners as we did at the time of Attica and our prisons make an art out of destroying human beings. A Time To Die compels us to understand the inhumanity of prisons in America, one of the greatest injustices of our time, and of a state that has no compunction about murdering prisoners and jailers alike. If you believe that the state puts any value on the lives of the incarcerated or on their jailers, this book will change you forever. Think Attica forty years ago, think Pelican Bay today. Then act.”
—Michael Ratner, President, Center for Constitutional Rights

“A Time to Die is a searing portrait, not only of one of the great historical tragedies of the U.S. prison system, but of a journalist who wishes desperately to contribute to the struggle for racial justice while also grappling with his own white, middle-class biases. Its lessons—about the racist underpinnings of mass incarceration, about the cynical politics that determine life-or-death decisions, and about the conditions that deny prisoners their basic humanity—are as relevant today as when it was first published. This is a book that should be taught in classrooms.”
—Liliana Segura, Associate Editor, The Nation

Praise for previous editions of A Time to Die: The Attica Prison Revolt

“The Attican events, described with energy and workday language. . . . will surely appease the hunger of tens of thousands of us for an honest insider’s account of what led to such a ferocious attack on virtually unarmed prisoners. . . . [I]t is a heartbroken rather than angry book. It is a superb documentary which would hold up in court.”
— Kurt Vonnegut, The New York Times Book Review

“A Time to Die is an excellent and gripping account of a massacre that dramatized some appalling weaknesses in the fabric of our society.”

“One of Wicker’s most telling points is that the placement of these ‘human warehouses’ [in Attica] out of sight of the law-abiding who need never go there has resulted in their administration by guards unable to cope with, sometimes unable even to understand the language of their charges. . . . Wicker is scathing on Rockefeller’s evident belief that ‘the order of things must be preserved.’”

“A Time to Die is detailed, painstakingly thorough, explicit in its detail and photographs, and frightening in its implications.”
American Bar Association Journal

“Tom Wicker’s A Time to Die is multilayered. On one level, it is history; on a second, political philosophy; on a third, autobiography; and on a final level, an appeal for prison reform. Above all, however, it is good writing.”
Yale Law Review

“[A Time to Die] is an unusual blend of reporting and personal soul searching. . . . [T]he result is tense, gripping, and shocking.”
School Library Journal

About the Author

Tom Wicker, a former reporter, Washington bureau chief, and columnist for The New York Times, is the author of several books, including On the Record. He lives in Rochester, Vermont.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 356 pages
  • Publisher: Haymarket Books (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608462153
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608462155
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #371,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Doepke on July 28, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First published in 1975, Wicker's book is a gripping first-hand account of the Attica prison riot of 1971. Over about a 4-day period in September, the nation was glued to the real life drama playing out in upstate New York. There the upheaval loosed by Vietnam and urban decay suddenly confronted the power of the state, as a population of mainly black and brown inmates broke from their cells and seized prison guard hostages in a 4-day standoff with authorities. Wicker was called in as part of an observer team tasked with mediating the standoff. In the process, he had to confront not only the two warring sides, but his own deeper convictions, as well. Thus, the book probes not only the riot's underlying societal realities, but also the author's well-known liberal consciousness.

Wicker writes more as a reporter than a historian. Thus, readers looking for historical context should probably look elsewhere. However, as a real life reflection of many of the country's most pressing social conflicts, the account is hard to beat. The participants range from Gov. Rockefeller to Commissioner Oswald to Black Panther Bobby Seale to fiery leaders of the rebellion. While, in the background, anxious and sometimes angry families await the outcome. Wicker tries not to assign blame for the tragic course of events, but his sympathies are with inmate grievances both inside and outside prison walls. At the same time, he must confront extreme realities of those who've angrily given up on "the system", along with the resistant system itself.

At times, it's difficult to keep up with the many power-players. Yet, the immediacy of Wicker's account is irresistible. I'm glad the book has been reissued for younger folks. Unfortunately, the underlying issues have not been resolved in the 40-year meantime. Instead, as events from Attica show, an official lid has merely been clamped down on those exposed wounds. And now a sour economy is turning up the heat.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Don Tartasky Lt Col USAF Ret on August 19, 2013
Format: Paperback
Tom Wicker was one of the finest newspaper columnists ever to have set words on a page of newsprint.
More than being about the Attica rebellion, this book is a commentary on racism in America. It had a huge impact on me when I read it many years ago.
I consider this to be the best book I have ever read.
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By PRW226 on July 22, 2014
Format: Paperback
Very well written even though you may know how it ends it's still a page turner.
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