- Hardcover: 752 pages
- Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (August 23, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375423222
- ISBN-13: 978-0375423222
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 196 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #172,431 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy Hardcover – August 23, 2016
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Praise for Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water
“Gripping . . . Not all works of history have something to say so directly to the present, but Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, which deals with racial conflict, mass incarceration, police brutality and dissembling politicians, reads like it was special-ordered for the sweltering summer of 2016. But there’s nothing partisan or argumentative about Blood in the Water. The power of this superb work of history comes from its methodical mastery of interviews, transcripts, police reports and other documents, covering 35 years, many released only reluctantly by government agencies . . . It’s Ms. Thompson’s achievement, in this remarkable book, to make us understand why this one group of prisoners [rebelled], and how many others shared the cost.” —Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times
“Chilling, and in places downright shocking . . . [Thompson] tells the story of the riot and its aftermath with precision and momentum.” —Bryan Burrough, The Wall Street Journal
“A masterly account . . . Essential . . . Blood in the Water restores [the prisoners’] struggle to its rightful place in our collective memory.” —James Forman Jr., The New York Times Book Review
“A long, memorable chronicle . . . dense with new information . . . Thompson’s capacity for close observation and her honesty [are] impressive.” —Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
“Masterful.” —Lewis M. Steel, The Nation
“Thompson’s book is a masterpiece of historical research; it is thoroughly researched, extensively documented and reads like a novel . . . Magnificent.” —Terry Hartle, The Christian Science Monitor
“Heather Ann Thompson tracked down long-hidden files related to the tragedy at Attica—some of which have since disappeared—to tell the saga in its full horror.” —Larry Getlen, New York Post
“Writing with cinematic clarity from meticulously sourced material, [Thompson] brilliantly exposes the realities of the Attica prison uprising . . . Thompson’s superb and thorough study serves as a powerful tale of the search for justice in the face of the abuses of institutional power.” —Publishers Weekly Review of the Day (starred review)
“[A] real eye-opener for readers whose interest in Attica and knowledge of what happened ended when the headlines receded . . . Compelling . . . Sensitive . . . Impressively authoritative and thoughtfully composed.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Blood in the Water is extraordinary—a true gift to the written history of civil rights and racial justice struggles in America.” —Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
“Remarkable. Blood in the Water is a historical tour de force. It sheds new light on these most important historical events, events that in part triggered the wave of exponential prison growth today. For those of us who have been tracing the rise of mass incarceration in this country, Heather Ann Thompson’s book is a must read.” —Bernard E. Harcourt, Professor of Law and Political Science at Columbia University
“Heather Ann Thompson wields the powers of the historian with mesmerizing force. Forty-five years after the Attica uprising, Blood in the Water offers the most complete history to date on that tragic episode and does so with unflinching purpose: a clearer view of the consequences for human life, both past and present.” —Glenn E. Martin, Founder and President of JustLeadershipUSA
“Blood in the Water tells of warning signs in 1971 that still exist more than forty years later. Heather Ann Thompson’s prophetic analysis is a sobering reminder that we must all care about what is happening to human beings behind prison walls.” —Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York
About the Author
HEATHER ANN THOMPSON is an award-winning historian at the University of Michigan. Her most recent book, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, won the Pulitzer Prize in History, the Bancroft Prize, the Ridenhour Book Prize, and the J. Willard Hurst Prize, and was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, among other accolades. She is also the author of Whose Detroit?: Politics, Labor, and Race in a Modern American City and the editor of Speaking Out: Activism and Protest in the 1960s and 1970s. She served on a National Academy of Sciences blue-ribbon panel that studied the causes and consequences of mass incarceration in the United States and has given congressional staff briefings on the subject. She has written on the history of mass incarceration and its current impact for The New York Times, Time, The Atlantic, Salon, Newsweek, NBC, Dissent, New Labor Forum, and The Huffington Post, as well as for various top scholarly publications.
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45 years ago, prisoners took over an exercise yard at Attica prison, after months of having their complaints about insufficient food, lack of medical care, guard brutality ignored. As negotiations with the prisoners were beginning to bear fruit (the state agreed that virtually all,of their complaints were legitimate), Rockefeller decided to slaughter the prisoners, to ensure he was viewed as "tough on crime" and to further his national political ambitions. The casual racism behind this decision was explicitly approved by Nixon sitting in the Oval Office (as we know because of his now famous taping system).
Over the following decades, New York State did whatever it could to obscure what happened and shift blame from itself to the prisoners. Before a single body was examined, the state announced that prisoners had eviscerated guards, and castrated at least one of them, cutting off his genitiles and stuffing them in his mouth. Nothing of the sort occurred. All of the guards killed in the end were slaughtered by law enforcement; none by prisoners.
After reviewing all of the events of the days during the uprising and the slaughter in the days after, Thompson turns to the cover up...which reached all the way to Governor (and then Vice President) Rockefeller. She then turns to the tireless efforts of the men at Attica to gain legal redress for the harm done to them, and then to the surviving guards' battle for an apology and compensation.
At the end is a wonderful Epilogue, discussing the impact not so much of the uprising itself on the course of history, but the even bigger impact of the false narrative and cover up which followed the mass slaughter by the state in the aftermath.
The book was so fascinating, that I kept going all the way through the acknowledgments. A pretty comprehensive list, including illustrious scholars like Michele Alexander and Toussaint Losier; and my great friend, Shaena Fazal. Buried in the middle, was mention of Alan Mills. If this is me, I do not belong in this esteemed crowd, and had nothing to do with the book..but am so honored to be included. Wow.
Anyway, read the book! Attica; Fight Back.
This is illustrative of the larger theme of the book, which rejects the "animal" theory of criminal justice. In the popular imagination, the prison population includes many animals who are evil and who need to be warehoused indefinitely. Yet anyone who has ever spent any time with violent offenders quickly reaches the rather depressing realization that they are, above all, men -- not different in kind from "us." This is true even of the ones who commit the most evil acts. But the nation, led by Governor Rockefeller who put down the rebellion, took a different path at this time, doubling down on sentencing, rejecting the rehabilitative function of prisons, and increasing prison populations geometrically.
The most disturbing part of the book is its riveting retelling of the recapture of the prison by the State troopers. The police cooled their heels outside for 4 days, growing angrier at the use of liberal lawyers, journalists, and even the Black Panthers to attempt to negotiate a peaceful surrender. That anger is understandable, particularly given their fears of mistreatment of the hostages and the irritating radical chic of the prison leaders who asked for extradition to a non-imperialist third country. What is shocking is the absence of planning for the recapture operation and the choice of leadership to stoke the fires of police rage so that the operation was a bloody as possible. They went in with shot guns and explosive bullets that maximized hit targets, including killing several hostages with friendly fire. Then there was an orgy of violence, torture, and racist hatred in the aftermath of the takeover. This was all preventable and it is leadership -- from Rockefeller down to the officers leading the recapture -- who are responsible.
The police wrongly claimed that the prisoners had killed the hostages. This was not so much a brazen lie as it was symptomatic of the rumors and fears that drove the officers to such terrible violence. But the claim was soon exposed as untrue. Not to matter, as the truth is the first casualty of war, be it a shooting war or a war on crime. In the popular imagination, the truth was that prisoners are animals. Rockefeller, and Nixon, and Reagan all won the argument -- with rhetoric, emotion, and an underlay of racism, rather than with reasoned logic and data.
Unlike most lay authors, Thompson has the patience to do the work necessary to understand the complexities of the litigation that followed the uprising and that spanned 40 years.
This is exceptionally well researched and written with a novelist's eye for narrative. It was worthy of the Pulitzer
He describes it as being very well written and makes him feel like he is actually participating in the history.
Also being someone who has a decent amount of knowledge of the event he has said that it is very thorough and obvious that the author has spent a lot of time on research.