Blood in the Water (Thompson book)

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Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy
AuthorHeather Ann Thompson
CountryUnited States
SubjectAttica Prison riot, Criminal Justice, Law, History, Race
Publication date
August 2016
AwardsPulitzer Prize and others
ISBN978-0-375-42322-2 (Hardcover)

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy is a non-fiction book about the Attica Prison uprising of 1971 and details not only the events of the week-long uprising and its brutal ending, but also the protracted legal battles that persisted for decades after the event. It is the third book by University of Michigan historian Heather Ann Thompson. Blood in the Water provides a complete history of the incidents at Attica reflecting a decade of research, including information from interviews, government records, personal correspondence, and legal documents, much of which has never been made public before. Thompson argues that the Attica uprising and New York state's response represented shifting American approaches to incarceration and policy. The reverberations of this watershed event has continued to influence America's prison system.

Thompson served as lead historical consultant on the Showtime Documentary Attica, released in 2021.[1][2]

Book bans in prisons[edit]

Blood in the Water has been subject to bans in at least eight U.S. state prison systems, in Arizona,[3] Illinois,[4][5] New Hampshire,[6] New York,[7] North Carolina,[8] Ohio,[9] Texas,[10] and Virginia.[8] The author filed lawsuits against the state prison systems of Illinois and New York on account of the bans.[4][11][7] Thompson was represented in the New York case by Cardozo School of Law's Civil Rights Clinic and the New York Civil Liberties Union. The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision lifted its ban in the face of legal pressure in August 2022.[12]

Critical reception[edit]

Since its publication in 2016, Blood in the Water has been profiled by media outlets across the U.S., Europe, and Canada, and has received much critical praise. The book was featured and reviewed in three separate sections of The New York Times with one of the reviews calling it a "gripping...remarkable...a superb work of history"[13] while another heralded its research, and the final one, a full-length piece in the NYT Book Review, lauding its passion and power.[14] Reviews in other publications such as Newsweek and The Christian Science Monitor were equally glowing, with the latter calling the book "a masterpiece." The author, Heather Ann Thompson, was herself featured in The New York Times Magazine. A review from NYU's Brennan Center for Justice said that "Thompson’s definitive account should be read by students, historians, and others who are interested not only in the riot itself, but in these larger subjects, and one more: the capacity of our legal system, after the fact, to right wrongs, and provide at least a modicum of justice."[15]

Blood in the Water has won a number of book awards, including the 2017 the Pulitzer Prize for History,[16] the Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy,[17] the Ridenhour Prize, the J. Willard Hurst Award in Socio-Legal History,[18] amongst others. Blood in the Water was a 2016 National Book Award Finalist and was on 2016 Top Book lists in the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Newsweek, and Kirkus Reviews.[19][20][21]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • Pulitzer Prize in History 2017
  • Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy 2017
  • Ridenhour Book Prize 2017
  • Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist 2017
  • New York City Bar Association Award 2016
  • National Book Award Finalist 2016
  • New York Times Most Notable Books of 2016
  • Top Ten Best Books of 2016 Publishers Weekly
  • Top Ten Best Works of Non-Fiction of 2016 Kirkus Reviews
  • Top Ten Books of 2016 Newsweek
  • J. Willard Hurst Award in Socio-Legal History 2017
  • Finalist Silver Gavel Award for Media and the Arts, Honorable Mention 2017


  1. ^ "Attica Official Trailer (2021)". SHOWTIME Documentary Film. Retrieved 2023-05-13.
  2. ^ Etan Vlessing (2020-06-08). "'Attica' Prison Revolt Doc in the Works at Showtime". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2023-05-13.
  3. ^ "Publication Review Report thru 06-10-19" (PDF). Prison Legal News. Arizona Department of Corrections. 2019-06-10. Retrieved 2022-09-20.
  4. ^ a b Hanania, Ray (2018-09-13). "Illinois Prisons ban Pulitzer Prize-Winning Book on Attica". Suburban Chicagoland. Retrieved 2022-09-20.
  5. ^ Thompson v. Baldwin, 3:18-cv-03230 (U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois 2018-09-13).
  6. ^ Stucker, Kyle (2022-03-21). "Art books, GQ, 'Game of Thrones,' Scientology: New England prisons ban thousands of books". Providence Journal. Retrieved 2022-09-20.
  7. ^ a b Neumeister, Larry (2022-03-31). "Historian sues NY prisons over ban of Attica uprising book". AP News. Retrieved 2022-09-20.
  8. ^ a b "The Books Banned in Your State's Prisons". 2023-02-23. Retrieved 2023-05-14.
  9. ^ "Printed Materials and Books Screened and Excluded 4/30/2014 - 4/30/2019" (PDF). Prison Legal News. Ohio DRC. 2019-04-30. Retrieved 2022-09-20.
  10. ^ "TX Denied Books October 1 2021". Texas Department of Criminal Justice. 2021-10-01. Retrieved 2022-09-20.
  11. ^ Kevin Gosztola (2018-09-13). "Illinois Prisons Sued for Censoring Book on Attica Uprising". Retrieved 2023-05-13.
  12. ^ Khana, Maysoon (2022-08-02). "New York prisons lift ban on book about Attica uprising". AP News. Retrieved 2022-09-20.
  13. ^ Oppenheimer, Mark. "'Blood in the Water,' a Gripping Account of the Attica Prison Uprising". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  14. ^ Forman, Jr, James (2016-08-30). "Attica, Attica: The Story of the Legendary Prison Uprising (Published 2016)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-12-02.
  15. ^ "Book Review: Blood in the Water | Brennan Center for Justice". Retrieved 2020-12-02.
  16. ^ "2017 Pulitzer Prizes". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  17. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer. "Bancroft Prize for History Awarded to 3 Scholars". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  18. ^ "2017 Award Winners". Law and Society Association. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  19. ^ "2016 National Book Awards". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  20. ^ "100 Notable Books of 2016". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  21. ^ "2016 Best Books". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 30 June 2017.