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

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  25,575 ratings  ·  2,755 reviews
What does the untimely death of one man mean?

Robert Peace was born outside Newark in a ghetto known as "Illtown." His unwed mother worked long hours in a kitchen. His charismatic father was later convicted of a double murder. Peace's intellectual brilliance and hard-won determination earned him a full scholarship to Yale University. At college, while majoring in molecular
Hardcover, 406 pages
Published September 23rd 2014 by Scribner
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Lynn This entire book is about choices - bad choices. Not every young black male who goes to an Ivy League school makes choices that Rob makes. Hypothetica…moreThis entire book is about choices - bad choices. Not every young black male who goes to an Ivy League school makes choices that Rob makes. Hypothetical questions do not do this story justice. The crux of the matter is Rob's inner drive. He is tireless in his pursuit of his vision of success. The "big deal" that he came up with had it's inherent dangers. He draws up this letter to send to Johnson & Johnson, puts it on hold, just to split a half a million dollars with his friends? His take was $76,000.00. That is chump change. In many ways Rob was penny wise and pound foolish. All that Ivy League education he juggled alongside being just another drug dealer. And his mother sensed it all the time. She emerges as the hero in all this. What that woman endured is tragic. If marijuana was legal - if his father wasn't incarcerated - if he was raised in Upper Montclair - if, if, if. Why bother asking the question?

Where were the dorm police in all this? Who was there to help Rob see the error in his thinking? Who was giving career advice at Yale? The truth be known, Rob was caught in the middle. Students from rich families who have fathers with worthwhile connections do not have the worries that Rob carried everyday of his short lived life. Rob didn't have the advantage of golf course connections that other Yale student fathers were making so upon graduation their sons have a job waiting for them. This story, in many ways, reminds me of the NFL. Young star athletes are given huge sign-on bonuses, but nobody is there to tell them how to invest it. Was there one Yale professor willing to take Rob under his wing?

The people who should be reading this book are all of Rob's Yale professors. I'm from East Orange. I chose to stay away from drugs and alcohol. Some of my friends did not. Many are dead. The legalization of marijuana is not the answer to the inner city's woes.(less)
Molly I think yes and no. I think there were plenty of opportunities for him to make choices that would have taken him down a different path. A different sc…moreI think yes and no. I think there were plenty of opportunities for him to make choices that would have taken him down a different path. A different school than Yale, going on to graduate school immediately after or seeking a job in his field, staying in Rio or any of the other places he loved in his travels. But the part of me that says "no" argues that he couldn't leave Jackie alone in East Orange to care for her aging and ailing parents, and couldn't abandon Skeet while there was still the slightest chance of his getting out of prison.

His parents did so much to help him rise above the disadvantages that were his birthright, but, in doing so, I feel they anchored him to Newark and to themselves. (less)

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Glenn Sumi
Feb 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
It’s been a couple of days since I finished this, and I’m still shaken up. The Short And Tragic Life Of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark For The Ivy League (shame about the title) is the sort of book I want to press on friends, saying simply: “You must read this.”

Rob Peace grew up in a poor and dangerous New Jersey neighbourhood. The odds were stacked against him. He was black, male and being raised by his single mother (his father was loosely involved in the drug business an
Sara Nelson
Sep 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Full disclosure: I am a friend of the author and have read this book in many drafts and encouraged him to publish it. Still, I am blown away by how beautifully Jeff Hobbs showed us a story in which there are no heroes, where everybody is complex. . .if there's a perfect person in this book it is Jackie, Rob Peace's mother, who suffers his loss to this day. This is a hugely important book, but I worry that to say that makes it sound like the literary equivalent of kale: good for you but not that ...more
Jul 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was an extremely difficult book to read--not because of the writing, which was clear and precise, but because of the feeling of being in a slow motion car wreck. You know something terrible is coming, you don't want it to happen, and you are helpless to stop it. Which is how I imagine many of Robert Peace's friends felt. It's an absolutely unflinching look at how poverty affects lives.

(I'm covering the rest of the review with a spoiler alert, but I don't think the content I reveal would ru
Elyse  Walters
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My mind still lingers with Sherman Alexie's memoir, "You Don't Have To Say You Love
Sherman Alexie was raised on an Indian Reservation -- with unbearable conditions --he moved on to schools where he could get a better education- in all white schools. His classmates came to love and respect him. ---
Sherman Alexie is a successful author today --at the same time ...Sherman never 'fully' escaped his environment.
He is a Native American- with memories of property - abuse - drugs - etc. He has an
Jan 07, 2015 rated it did not like it
I have a lot of feelings when it comes to this book.

On the one hand, Jeff Hobbs is a talented writer. Here is an engaging work of non-fiction, that brings the reader deep into the life of a man they'll never know.
On the other, much weightier hand, this book is yet another monetization of black tragedy. Hobbs knew Peace, but by his own admission in his work, he didn't really know this man. He gleaned the details of his life from family and friends and then wrote a work that regularly centered his
Dec 22, 2014 rated it did not like it
This book has been the most significant waste of time I've ever endured. It's apparent that Jeff Hobbs was not as close a friend to Robert Peace as he let on. I don't trust him. I don't know who would trust him and on what grounds they would trust him to tell the story of Robert Peace's life. Struggling with debt, trying to make a name for himself, working to put his Yale degree to some use, it appears that a story about how you can take the Black kid out of the ghetto, but you can't take the gh ...more
Sep 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2014
“I’ve never met anyone so smart but so f***ing dumb.” – Oswaldo Gutierrez (friend of Rob’s)

This sums up my feelings exactly after reading this troubling book, but at the same time, it is so much more complicated than that.

Robert “Shawn” Peace is born to a single mother in poverty and crime-stricken Newark, New Jersey in 1980. Although his mother and father never married, his father remained a powerful influence in his life, both negative (hustling drugs) and positive (tirelessly drilling his son
Dec 23, 2014 rated it did not like it
As an African American Yale graduate who knew Rob Peace, I find many inconsistencies in this book. The timeline and several of the reports are inaccurate; no doubt some degree of sensationalism was needed to sell the story. The greatest inconsistency rests in Jeff deeming himself a "friend" of the author. Why would a "friend" choose to publicize such negative and disparaging details of a loved one's life? Why would a "friend" choose to taint the and destroy the reputation of someone he holds dea ...more
Nov 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
I loved the beginning of this book. But the book's tone takes a sharp turn when the author appears 125 pages in. The childhood portions were so well reported. It feels strange that the Yale portions of this book rely so much more heavily on the author's own experiences. It becomes too much about Jeff Hobbs. I wouldn't mind some details about Hobbs to understand the juxtaposition of Rob's being his roommate, but I don't need to know all about Hobb's track issues and the first time he smoked marij ...more
Oct 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
During my time at Yale, I was pretty oblivious to the issues of income inequality between students-I was a middle class girl from South Florida who didn't understand how those issues made the Yale experience-the best of my life--a vastly different one for those who didn't have what I had been given. I've spent most of my adult life working with low income people and now understand those issues-and reading about Rob Peace's life made me so profoundly sad, for the gifts he had, for his inability t ...more
Mariah Roze
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a sad and happy story of a man that was killed too soon. The author did a great job and I plan on reading future books by him.

I highly suggest this book!

"Robert Peace was born outside Newark in a ghetto known as "Illtown." His unwed mother worked long hours in a kitchen. His charismatic father was later convicted of a double murder. Peace's intellectual brilliance and hard-won determination earned him a full scholarship to Yale University. At college, while majoring in molecular bio
Feb 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm trying to sort through my reaction to The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace. Jeff Hobbs writes about his former Yale roommate, Rob Peace, who was tragically killed at age of 30 likely as a result of his involvement in the drug trade. Robert was African American and grew up in a very low income crime ridden part of New Jersey. Hobbs recounts in meticulous detail Rob's life -- the neighbourhood he grew up in, his single mother's love and dedication, his bond with his father even after he w ...more
Sep 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Wow! Just, "wow!" This is such a fantastic tale - fantastic in the sense of being the stuff of fantasy though it was and is oh so real and a tale in a similar sense of being so incredible and unique that it seems like fiction but cannot be in the spirit of the expression "You can't make this stuff up!" - and one that is lovingly, movingly and beautifully told by its author, erstwhile college roommate, friend and admirer of the singular individual who was and is Robert DeShaun Peace.

And yet it's
It is no surprise to the reader going in that The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace would not end well, but Rob's unnecessary death did not only make me sad, it made me mad!

Such intelligence, such potential, such strength to overcome achieve so much and then throw it all away.....such a waste!

A Yale grad, a great leader, and an admired teacher with a degree in molecular biochemistry and biophysics.....lost to the drug trade. What a dam shame!

Feb 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs is a brilliant rendering of a life wasted. Robert Peace, born and raised in Newark, child of a hard-working (but therefore often absent) mother and a loving father (absent because he went to prison for murder when Robert was 7), had a brilliant mind. He was charming and caring and went from Newark to Yale via a small prep school in Newark. He worked hard but people also helped him. H ...more
Chris Blocker
Feb 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Before I even cracked the spine of this book, I had my reservations. What truly was the author's relationship with the subject? Was this another case of exploiting of a tragedy? What is the purpose of this book? To solidify stereotypes? To give fodder to those who say “you can take the black man out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the black man”? Having finished this book and loved it, I still wonder about these questions. I guess that's good—a book should make you think. A g ...more
Sophie Vershbow
Sep 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of the most important books I've ever come across. "The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace" should be required reading in every school in every town in every country across the world. Aside from being educated about class-issues in America, I was deeply affected by Peace's journey, and Hobb's ability to convey it so effectively. Never before have I been moved to tears by a book that taught me so much.

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. Please, everyone, read this book.
Dec 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
If I were rating Robert Peace on the writing alone, I'd give it 2.5 stars. The book is too long (I would have cut all the stuff about Newark politicians, among other things), and the prose is repetitive and at best workmanlike. But it gets a huge bump up because while I was reading it, I had a hard time not thinking about the questions it implied and the issues it raised. I even dreamed about it.

What is the secret of success? This young man's story tells you what that secret is not: it's not int
Apr 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace could not have been more aptly named. His story is fascinating but not in a good way. I think the one thing Peace's life goes to demonstrate is exactly how difficult it is to break the cycle of poverty. Even if a person is brilliant. Even if extraordinary opportunities prevent themselves. Poverty seems to be sort of a soul and mind suck. That's what I took away from this book. That battling poverty is such a heavy, complex thing, nowhere as simple as one ...more
Mar 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written by a former roommate, this is the biography of Robert Peace. Raised by his hardworking, black, single mother in a poverty and drug ridden neighborhood in Newark, and with his father in prison, he nevertheless managed to earn a spot in an Ivy League School and excel both socially and academically. It seems Robert Peace was one of those people who deeply touched the lives of those who knew him being both charismatic and brilliant. Unfortunately (as the title gives away)becoming mired in th ...more
Chris Witkowski
Oct 29, 2014 rated it liked it
The life story of Rob Peace, as told by his Yale college roommate, is one of the saddest tales I have ever heard, and also one of the most infuriating. Peace was born in the slums of Newark to Jackie, a single mom; at the age of seven his father was arrested for murder and sent to prison, a grim and terrible place that Rob and his mother would visit religiously on a weekly basis. Rob was extremely intelligent and Jackie was bound and determined that he would get a good education and to that end, ...more
Diane Yannick
Mar 04, 2016 rated it liked it
First I need to get this out of the way. To all of you who have deemed this a well-written book, I heartily disagree. Both the writing and the self-promotion of the author get in the way of the story. The narrative is tedious, full of cliches and often awkward. How in the hell many unremarkable marijuana infused nights at Yale and in the hood did he need to describe? If you're going to lay out the story with a horrible title like this, don't make us wait so long for the tragedy. I know you were ...more
Dec 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A lot of people are blathering about the sociology and importance of this book and its spotlight on poverty and class in the U.S. blah blah blah blah but I just loved it for being emotionally riveting and suspenseful. As a suburban Midwesterner, I know nothing about how it feels to live in a violent urban environment nor in the hallowed halls of an Ivy League school so the entire story was fascinating to me, and well-told. I was captivated by Rob Peace, as it seems everyone he met was. RIP
Nov 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jeff Hobbs does a fantastic job drawing the reader into life of Robert Peace. From the fierce streets of Newark, to the campus of Yale University and back to Newark, "Rob Peace stood on the cusp of achieving everything that word called to mind." As a reader your first inclination is to judge but as the story unfolds you realize if you haven't lived it, how can you judge. I was reduced to tears at the conclusion of this story and heartbroken over the unconscionable but yet realistic turn of event ...more
Lori Gottlieb
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that everyone should read--and not just because the writing is beautiful and moving and the author makes readers care so much about a real person that we never had the opportunity to meet. Yes, it's a riveting read, but more than that, it speaks to important questions about how our early environments, opportunities, inborn drive and talent, societal limitations, racism, and so much more all play a role in how we develop as human beings--whether we thrive, what that looks like, wha ...more
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book brought me back to Jersey. To a time I worked three jobs and lived in an attic in Bradley Beach. The Jersey Shore. Paying 100 bucks a month rent. In my torn-up black Oldsmobile, I barreled twice a week up the Parkway to Seton Hall. Driving streets Peace would know and learn to run. Past a park where he’d deal. I might have even driven past a young Peace. My connection to this place formed in the early nineties, before he came of age. Naughty by Nature had hit it - dropping stories abou ...more
Victoria (RedsCat)
Aug 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2014
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace won’t get out of my head. I’ve been thinking about it long after I finished reading it. I’m sure you will, too.

A lot of people are probably going to say he wasted his life. I’m not going to. (Mostly because I bet a lot of people have said the same about me.) Sometimes people just don’t know which way to go in life.

Jeff Hobbs not only knew Robert Peace, when he decided to write about him, he researched his life in-depth. Mr. Peace grew up in a violent and
Jun 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
no hyperbole, this is one of the most important books of year. When it comes out in September, buy it, read it, give it to everyone you know. Born in Newark and working his way up to Yale, Robert Peace lived his life with one foot in the street and one in academia. "Each day he was all of these people. But at any given moment, he walled off but one. This existence was fracturing, but it was the only way to integrate his ambition and intellect in a milieu in which neither had currency and in whic ...more
Laura Rodney
Jan 19, 2015 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
While I was at a party during graduate school, I heard one of my classmates discuss race issues in terms of a young African-African woman who grew up in poverty but brought herself up by wit, determination, perseverance, grit -- what have you -- to enter Duke. I was sort of mortified.

The story above is a kind of trope we should all recognize now. It's a story that is commonly told in media and amongst ourselves as a form of reassurance that race and class issues still boil down to individual det
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Play Book Tag: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace/Hobbs - 5 stars 12 30 Nov 13, 2017 03:37PM  

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Jeff Hobbs grew up in Kennett Square, PA and graduated from Yale in 2002 with a BA in English Language and Literature. He is the author of The Tourists and The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.

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