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The Book of Numbers

Robert Deane Pharr. Afterword by Jabari Asim

BUY Paper · 382 pp. · 5.25 × 8.25 · ISBN 9780813920467 · $23.50 · May 2001

In the hardboiled tradition of Chester Himes and Walter Mosely, Robert Deane Pharr's novel tells the tale of two black men, Dave and Blueboy, traveling waiters who establish themselves as numbers runners in a fictionalized Richmond of the 1930s. Published to great acclaim in 1969, The Book of Numbers centers on powerful themes of truth and illusion, myth and legend, and vividly conveys a sense of African American life on the periphery of white society. The new Virginia edition complements Pharr's text with an Afterword by Washington Post editor Jabari Asim.


Mr. Pharr begins in Biblical rhythms... and sustains his tempo with parables of love, brotherhood, and death. Fortifying the novel's supple style is its inescapable vitality; it surges through The Block, bringing to life every major and minor invention.

New York Times Books Review

Alienation, loneliness, the quest for authentic communication between people, the effort to make sense out of a meaningless world pervade many black novels as fully as they do the works of such writers as Joseph Heller or Bernard Malamud. In Robert Deane Pharr's rich new novel The Book of Numbers, the hero strives for the illusion of independence while actually becoming totally dependent on others.


About the Author(s): 

Robert Deane Pharr was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1916. The son of a minister and a schoolteacher, Pharr graduated from Virginia Union University and went on to graduate studies at Fisk, Columbia, and New York University, but spent most of his adult life as an itinerant waiter who moved from track to track, following the racing season. He wrote The Book of Numbers while working in New York City. During a stint at the Columbia University Faculty Club, Pharr showed the manuscript to a professor in the English Department who helped bring it to the attention of Doubleday. Pharr went on to write several other novels, among them The Soul Murder Case and Giveadamn Brown. He died in upstate New York in 1989.

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