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Summary and book reviews of The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett Davis

The World According to Fannie Davis

My Mother's Life in the Detroit Numbers

by Bridgett M. Davis

The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett M. Davis X
The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett M. Davis
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2019, 320 pages
    Jan 2020, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
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About this Book

Book Summary

A singular memoir that tells the story of one unforgettable mother, her devoted daughter, and the life they lead in the Detroit numbers of the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1958, the very same year that an unknown songwriter named Berry Gordy borrowed $800 to found Motown Records, a pretty young mother from Nashville, Tennessee borrowed $100 from her brother to run a Numbers racket out of her tattered apartment on Delaware Street, in one of Detroit's worst sections. That woman was Fannie Davis, Bridgett M. Davis' mother. Part bookie, part banker, mother, wife, granddaughter of slaves, Fannie became more than a numbers runner: she was a kind of Ulysses, guiding both her husbands, five children and a grandson through the decimation of a once-proud city using her wit, style, guts, and even gun. She ran her numbers business for 34 years, doing what it took to survive in a legitimate business that just happened to be illegal. She created a loving, joyful home, sent her children to the best schools, bought them the best clothes, mothered them to the highest standard, and when the tragedy of urban life struck, soldiered on with her stated belief: "Dying is easy. Living takes guts."

A daughter's moving homage to an extraordinary parent, The World According to Fannie Davis is also the suspenseful, unforgettable story about the lengths to which a mother will go to "make a way out of no way" to provide a prosperous life for her family - and how those sacrifices resonate over time. This original, timely, and deeply relatable portrait of one American family is essential reading.

Author's Note

Dear Reader,

Because of the many years that have passed, and the ephemeral nature of the Numbers themselves, the physical record that remains of my mother's business is scant. But my memory of her work is not; it is vivid. To edify and enhance my own memory, I've also relied on the recollections and knowledge of my mother's sister and brother, my nephew and cousins, and childhood friends. I've joined these interviews with extensive research, my own earlier writings and diary entries, as well as family documents and personal papers kept in my mother's brass trunk—to reconstruct the world of my childhood and young adulthood as the youngest daughter of my mother, Fannie Drumwright Davis Robinson, who ran Numbers in Detroit. This is her story. And mine.

…They did not dream the American Dream, they willed it into being by a definition of their own choosing.

—Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns

My mission in life is not merely to survive but to ...

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BookBrowse Review


The World According to Fannie Davis speaks to broader social struggles related to class, race, gender and migrancy. This memoir captivates, balancing between the relatability of inter-generational family relationships—the admiration, tension, struggle and loss within them—and the magnetism of lucrative, risky black-market business...continued

Full Review (830 words).

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(Reviewed by Jamie Chornoby).

Media Reviews

New York Times
The World According to Fannie Davis is a daughter’s gesture of loving defiance, an act of reclamation, an absorbing portrait of her mother in full...Blending memoir and social history, she recounts her mother’s extraordinary story alongside the larger context of Motor City’s rise and fall.

Publishers Weekly
This charming tale of a strong and inspirational woman offers a tantalizing glimpse into the past, savoring the good without sugarcoating the bad.

Library Journal
The Numbers' background is rarely explored, and works such as Don Liddick's The Mob's Daily Number lack the personal connection Davis so vividly exploits in this successful combination of family and sociological history.

A moving portrait...Her writing feels rooted in the city and its changing landscape. Combining historical research with extensive interviews, The World According to Fannie Davis is an engrossing tribute to a vibrant, hardworking, unforgettable woman.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. This outstanding book is a tribute to one woman but will surely speak to the experiences of many.

Author Blurb Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage
Bridgett M. Davis draws a loving portrait of her unforgettable mother who gamed the system and won. Davis is a witness to the journey of the African American strivers of Detroit, but she is also a witness to the evolution of her own remarkable family history. Combining rigorous research with an insider's access, The World According To Fannie Davis is a triumphant tale of female empowerment. Bridgett Davis' love letter to her mother lights a bold new path, because sometimes leaning in is not enough

Author Blurb James McBride, author of The Color of Water, winner of the National Book Award for The Good Lord Bird, and recipient of the 2015 National Humanities Medal
This book brought tears to my eyes...Fannie Davis was always described as 'lucky.' That her talented youngest daughter Bridgett had the good sense to share her story with us all makes us lucky as well.

Author Blurb Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the National Book Award and author of Brown Girl Dreaming and Another Brooklyn
A timely, intriguing and well-told story of what it means to come of age during a time when people found so many amazing ways to once amazingly specific and trail blazingly universal. I couldn't put this book down.

Author Blurb Mary Gaitskill, author of National Book Award finalist Veronica
The World According To Fannie Davis is a world of urban wit, grit and toughness. It is also a world of transformative magic- the magic of feminine strength and many people as possible should know about Fannie Davis.

Author Blurb Gregory Pardlo, author of Air Traffic and Digest, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
The payoffs here are many, including this daughter's loving take on that relentless class of African Americans who made prosperity imaginable for others no matter the odds.

Author Blurb Russell Shorto, author of The Island at the Center of the World
An altogether fresh take on the black experience, and a compelling piece of the American experience. An absorbing and delightful book.

Author Blurb Alysia Abbott, author of Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father
[A] rare book that successfully combines vivid family memoir with timely social history...I loved this book.

Author Blurb George Hodgman, veteran magazine and book editor and author of Bettyville
A captivating, energetic memoir that entertains and enlightens as it reminds us of the unstoppable force - in life and on the page - of a mother determined to lift her family up.

Author Blurb Tracie McMillan, author of the New York Times bestseller The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table
The World According to Fannie Davis is a compelling, unusual book. Bridgett Davis tells an insightful tale of how low-stakes gambling helped fuel-and fund-racial justice work in Detroit, while giving us an intimate, invaluable look at the complexities of class for African-Americans. Her story also makes a trenchant point: If a black family could achieve this much while locked out of decent mortgages and good jobs, imagine what they could have done if given the same opportunities as whites. A fascinating read.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Property Ownership, Race and Upward Mobility

Homeownership rates by race and ethnic group from 1995-2015In The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother's Life in the Detroit Numbers, Bridgett M. Davis explains how property ownership was the key determinant in creating opportunity and prosperity across generations of her family. However, historically, there have been hefty barriers to property ownership for people of color in the United States, ranging from racially-motivated violence to discriminatory legislation. The year that Bridgett's grandfather—a working-class tradesman—bought his first piece of land, 26 racial massacres struck Tennessee, later known as the "Red Summer of 1919." Ray Winbush, the director of Fisk University's Race Relations Institute, explains this relationship in basic terms: "If you're looking for stolen ...

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