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The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League Bets On...

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League

October 2014

Back in the spring, I read Jeff Hobbs’s first work of nonfiction, THE SHORT AND TRAGIC LIFE OF ROBERT PEACE: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League, and I have not stopped talking about it since. It’s a book I cannot get out of my head. To me, it’s not just the story of Robert Peace, but also a commentary on the racial divide in this country, as well as a background history on the downfall of the inner city.

As the book opens and we are introduced to Rob’s world, Jeff sets the stage with a history of Newark that is informative and articulates why the city, like many American cities, has deteriorated. This setup paves the way for Rob’s story to unfold.

For me, this story is a familiar one. My parents grew up in Newark, though they were gone by the mid-1950s. Relatives remained there through the early ’80s, though most left during the “white flight” that took place in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I still remember the summer of 1967 when we were on vacation at the beach during the Newark riots. Now my younger son goes to college in the city. One of the incidents that Jeff writes about that occurred when Rob was in high school took place on streets that I have traveled down while visiting Cory at school. Jeff sets the landscape that is the important backdrop to Rob's story. Jeff was Rob’s roommate at Yale; after his death, he felt a strong need to find out why this happened and to try to understand who Rob was beyond the brilliant young man with whom he had gone to school.  

From the start, Robert Peace had a lot to overcome. He grew up with parents who never married, mostly due to the fact that his mom knew his dad was bad news. Both loved him, and though they lived apart, his dad was an active part of his world until the day he was arrested for murder. However, this arrest was made under some rather murky circumstances that further outline the racial divide.

Rob was wickedly smart and dubbed “The Professor” at a very young age. His mom scraped along to get him into the best grammar and high schools in an effort to keep him away from those who could drag him down. At home she kept the drapes closed tightly so those roaming the streets could not be tempted to rob them, and Rob could not see the violence right outside their door.

Rob was accepted to Yale, where he studied molecular biochemistry and biophysics, with his tuition and board paid by a benefactor from his high school alma mater. Once at Yale and short on pocket change and surrounded by far more well-endowed students, Rob slipped back to the ways of the street and started dealing marijuana, traveling back and forth to Newark by bus and train to refill his supply. His science education prompted him to perfect a new variety of marijuana and become a sort of lowlife entrepreneur. This ultimately led to his death when he was gunned down at the young age of 30. None of the above is a spoiler; you knew this story was not ending well from the title.

I interviewed Jeff during BookExpo America (BEA) as THE SHORT AND TRAGIC LIFE OF ROBERT PEACE was a BEA Buzz selection. Before that interview, we spent an hour on the phone one afternoon talking about the book and the issues it raised. It’s a powerful story, and one that I would love to see read and talked about --- a lot. By the way, for book groups, this can provide an eye-opening and interesting discussion on many levels.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League
by Jeff Hobbs

  • Publication Date: July 28, 2015
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1476731918
  • ISBN-13: 9781476731919