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

Finalist, National Book Awards 2016 for Nonfiction

Blood in the Water by Heather Thompson book cover
ISBN 9780375423222
Pantheon Books/Penguin Random House
Heather Ann Thompson author photo, by Graham Macindoe
Heather Ann Thompson

Heather Ann Thompson is an award-winning historian at the University of Michigan. She has written on the history of mass incarceration and its current impact for The New York Times, Time, The Atlantic, Salon, Dissent, New Labor Forum, and The Huffington Postas well as for various scholarly publications. More about this author >

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On September 9, 1971, nearly 1,300 prisoners took over the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York to protest years of mistreatment. Holding guards and civilian employees hostage, the prisoners negotiated with officials for improved conditions during the four long days and nights that followed.

On September 13, the state abruptly sent hundreds of heavily armed troopers and correction officers to retake the prison by force. Their gunfire killed thirty-nine men—hostages as well as prisoners—and severely wounded more than one hundred others. In the ensuing hours, weeks, and months, troopers and officers brutally retaliated against the prisoners. And, ultimately, New York State authorities prosecuted only the prisoners, never once bringing charges against the officials involved in the retaking and its aftermath and neglecting to provide support to the survivors and the families of the men who had been killed.

Drawing from more than a decade of extensive research, historian Heather Ann Thompson sheds new light on every aspect of the uprising and its legacy, giving voice to all those who took part in this forty-five-year fight for justice: prisoners, former hostages, families of the victims, lawyers and judges, and state officials and members of law enforcement. Blood in the Water is the searing and indelible account of one of the most important civil rights stories of the last century.

Judges Citation

Blood in the Water is a riveting history of the 1971 Attica prison uprising and massacre. After ten years of extensive research, historian Heather Ann Thompson narrates the brutal event with compassion and analytical acuity. Thompson has a keen eye for both detail and the bigger picture, capturing the humanity of the prisoners and the callowness of state officials and conveying to readers why, nearly five decades after the killing, Attica still matters.


Heather Ann Thompson reads from Blood in the Water, 2016 NBAs Finalists Reading