The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League
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An instant New York Times bestseller, named a best book of the year by The New York Times Book Review, Amazon, and Entertainment Weekly, among others, this celebrated account of a young African-American man who escaped Newark, NJ, to attend Yale, but still faced the dangers of the streets when he returned is, “nuanced and shattering” (People) and “mesmeric” (The New York Times Book Review).
When author Jeff Hobbs arrived at Yale University, he became fast friends with the man who would be his college roommate for four years, Robert Peace. Robert’s life was rough from the beginning in the crime-ridden streets of Newark in the 1980s, with his father in jail and his mother earning less than $15,000 a year. But Robert was a brilliant student, and it was supposed to get easier when he was accepted to Yale, where he studied molecular biochemistry and biophysics. But it didn’t get easier. Robert carried with him the difficult dual nature of his existence, trying to fit in at Yale, and at home on breaks.
A compelling and honest portrait of Robert’s relationships—with his struggling mother, with his incarcerated father, with his teachers and friends—The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace encompasses the most enduring conflicts in America: race, class, drugs, community, imprisonment, education, family, friendship, and love. It’s about the collision of two fiercely insular worlds—the ivy-covered campus of Yale University and the slums of Newark, New Jersey, and the difficulty of going from one to the other and then back again. It’s about trying to live a decent life in America. But most all this “fresh, compelling” (The Washington Post) story is about the tragic life of one singular brilliant young man. His end, a violent one, is heartbreaking and powerful and “a haunting American tragedy for our times” (Entertainment Weekly).
laughed because she’d been picturing Rob with a little girl in his arms, crushingly in love even as he complained about no sleep. “Uh-huh,” he said. “Someday there will be some little Robs running around, raising hell. You wait and see.” Later, Isabella and Rob were sitting in his car on 119th Street so that they could listen to a new hard-core rap group called Slaughterhouse without waking the baby. They talked about music. Back in college, Rob had schooled her on songs by M.O.P. and Jay-Z.
one another’s company, none eager to part ways and return home to whatever awaited them there. The other kids walked in much smaller groups, usually two but never more than three. During the summer they wore wife-beater undershirts, and during the winter they wore baggy coats that they shouldn’t have been able to afford. Whether these children actually sold drugs or simply wanted to project an association with people who did, Jackie felt sorry for them—sorry for the fact that ten and twenty
disciplinary measures. One of his first actions was to make boots illegal in school. Because of the uniforms, many students utilized footwear as fashion statements. Sneakers weren’t allowed, and so kids wore big construction boots with the laces untied—just like Rob had worn at Mt. Carmel. Rob decided that these boots were a distraction in the hallways and in class, with the heavy thumps they made and the fights they sometimes caused. He took plenty of flack for this policy decision, but he
of two PhD students. He began as a lab assistant: sterilizing beakers, recording data, getting coffee. Because of his disciplined promptness and curiosity, he quickly graduated to running his own low-level experiments, primarily in crystal diffraction. His work mostly involved trial and error, and he failed more often than he succeeded in achieving the desired results. His experiments dealt in the scope of atoms; one too many or one too few, and the reactions fell apart. But unlike most other
under the honor code of Yale University, that he would stop dealing drugs entirely. “Yes,” he replied one more time, and he thanked them for their guidance and discretion. He finished by saying, “I’m sorry.” They let him go. There would be no Executive Committee hearing. There would be no police. There would be no expulsion. And Rob went straight to water polo practice, for which he was thirty minutes late. Rather than dampen Rob’s growing air of untouchability, this brush with authority only