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

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

by Jeff Hobbs

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476731902
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 09/23/2014
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 440,885
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)
Lexile: 1220L (what's this?)

About the Author

Jeff Hobbs graduated with a BA in English language and literature from Yale in 2002, where he was awarded the Willets and Meeker prizes for his writing. Hobbs spent three years in New York and Tanzania while working with the African Rainforest Conservancy. He now lives in Los Angeles with his wife.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Jeff Hobbs. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.



Introduction

When Jeff Hobbs arrived at Yale University, he became fast friends with the man who would be his college roommate for four years, Robert Peace. Rob’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 barely scraping by as a cafeteria worker. But Rob was a brilliant student, and everything was supposed to get easier when he was accepted to Yale. But nothing got easier. Rob carried with him the difficult dual nature of his existence, “fronting” at Yale and at home.

As Jeff pieces together Rob’s life story through his relationships—with his struggling mother, his incarcerated father, his teachers and friends and fellow drug dealers—The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace comes to encompass the most enduring conflicts in America: race, class, drugs, community, imprisonment, education, family, friendship, and love. Rob’s story is about the collision of two fiercely insular worlds—the ivy-covered campus of Yale University and 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, the book is about the life and death of one brilliant man.



Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. The title of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace reveals its ending. What was it like to read Peace’s life story, knowing how it would end? Was the tragedy present in your mind throughout the reading experience, or were you able to forget it at any point?

2. When Jackie first asked Skeet for tuition to send their son to private school, Skeet called her “uppity” (pp. 22–23). How does the term “uppity” capture the possibilities and pitfalls of Jackie’s aspirations for Rob?

3. Throughout his short life, Rob “strove to project confidence and strength while refusing to show weakness and insecurity” (p. 57). Why do you think Rob refused to ask for help during his many moments of need? What were the direct and indirect consequences of Rob’s projection of confidence?

4. Discuss Rob’s methods of “Newark-proofing”: code-switching to protect himself in the streets of his hometown. According to Rob, how is Newark-proofing compatible with authenticity? How does Newark-proofing compare to “fronting,” a type of role-play that Rob disdained? Do you agree with Rob’s distinction between Newark-proofing and fronting? Why or why not?

5. Consider Rob’s relationship to the drug trade, as both user and seller. How did marijuana affect his intellect, his emotions, and his relationships? Do you think a different legal policy toward marijuana might have affected his life course? Why or why not?

6. Discuss Rob’s attitudes toward money, poverty, and class. In what ways did Rob seek to escape or fix the deprived circumstances of his upbringing? In what ways did he replicate or revert to the cycle of poverty?

7. Consider the complicated journey of Skeet’s conviction, appeals, illness, and death. What were the injustices of Skeet’s experience? How do these injustices mirror larger issues of America’s justice system? How might the crime and its punishment be considered ambiguous or complicated?

8. Jeff Hobbs doesn’t enter the story until almost a third of the way through the book, when he and Rob Peace were matched as college roommates. What was it like to begin this book without “meeting” its narrator? How does the narrative change when Jeff steps onto the page?

9. Discuss the universal and particular elements of Rob’s college experience. What are some of the typical college milestones that Rob experienced at Yale? What was extraordinary or singular about his Yale years? In what ways does Rob’s experience point to larger questions about the value of a college degree today, particularly from an Ivy League school?

10. Consider Oswaldo Gutierrez, Rob’s friend who also traveled from Newark to New Haven and back again. Which of Oswaldo and Rob’s obstacles were similar, and which were different? How does Oswaldo’s current success shed light on Rob’s life choices?

11. Revisit Rob’s “statement of purpose” drafted for graduate school applications, printed in full near the end of the book (pp. 337–40). Why do you think Hobbs chose to print the statement in full—typos and all? What is the effect of reading this rough draft?

12. Jeff Hobbs orchestrates dozens of voices on the life and death of Robert Peace. Of all the perspectives in the book, whose felt most objective? Who, if anyone, might have offered a biased view of Peace’s history?

13. How did you feel when the Burger Boyz were disallowed from attending Rob’s funeral (pp. 392–93)? Could you sympathize with this decision? Do you think these young men deserve forgiveness for any connection with Rob’s death?

14. At Rob’s funeral, in front of four hundred mourners, Raquel compared her friend to a redwood tree, and took “solace in the fact that so many others thrived and found refuge in his shade while he was with us” (p. 390). Why do you think Rob had such a towering influence on so many people? How might that influence extend to the people who “meet” Rob by reading this book?



Enhance Your Book Club

1. Listen to a short interview with Jeff Hobbs on KCRW, the Los Angeles–based radio station: http://blogs.kcrw.com/whichwayla/2014/09/two-unlikely-friends-one-tragic-ending.

2. Watch the Academy Award–nominated PBS documentary Street Fight, about Cory Booker’s 2002 campaign for mayor. Learn more about the film and find websites that stream it here: http://www.streetfightfilm.com/index.html.

3. Mourners have left mix CDs on Rob Peace’s grave site. Using your favorite music-streaming service, compile a mix in tribute to Peace, including some of the songs mentioned in the book: “Southern Hospitality” by Ludacris, “Ride wit Me” by Nelly, “Put It on Me” by Ja Rule, “It Wasn’t Me” by Shaggy, “Forget You” by Cee Lo Green, and “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” by DMX. Add songs by Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Nas, and even two of the “prog rock” bands Rob discovered through his friend Hrvoje: the Misfits and Black Flag.

4. Try your hand at Jeff Hobbs’s research methods: choose any friend or loved one as a research subject. Interview three of your subject’s friends or relatives, asking the same two or three questions about the subject’s personal history. Do you get similar versions of the same story, or completely different stories? Discuss your research results with your book club.



A Conversation with Jeff Hobbs

Why did you decide to write this book?

On a Wednesday night in May 2011, while in the midst of brushing my teeth, I learned that my best friend from college had died violently, pointlessly, and painfully. I did what anyone does upon losing someone dear: flew to the funeral, said a few words during the service, bowed my head during the burial, made toasts to Rob having been a “good dude,” mourned, tried to move on. Except that I couldn’t move on; I returned home and found myself spending full workdays staring at the knotty wall planking in the garage where I work, mostly remembering good times had with Rob. I wrote a bunch of personal essays, weaving together college memories with weak attempts at insight, as well as stabbing at the guilt of having allowed our friendship to grow distant over the decade since we’d graduated. I reached out to mutual friends, spent hours talking on the phone and in person, asking each other, of course, why? A community formed around this question, many people from the various spaces of his life connecting with one another. And at some point it became important to people that some record exist—of his life, not only his death.

In the end, there was not so much a specific decisive moment of, “I am going to write a book about Rob,” but rather a process of being caught in this wave of loss and curiosity—of needing to know more—which only gathered strength as weeks and months passed. To some degree, no matter the medium or intention, everyone writes about what conflicts them, and nothing has ever conflicted me more than the death of Rob Peace.

How did Rob’s friends and family react to your intention to write his biography?

To say that Jackie Peace had given all of herself in order to nurture Rob’s intelligence and curiosity in a neighborhood in which neither trait had much currency would be a vast understatement. When she lost him, she lost not only her only child but all those decades of sacrifice—she lost her identity and her hope. I didn’t know Jackie well at all when I first sat down in her living room to speak formally about the book. She told me that her lone consolation after his death was, “I think my son influenced a lot of people, I really do believe that.” Feeling very small in proximity to this woman and her grief, I replied that, if she was willing, I wanted to write a book—a book about Rob’s life, not his death. I told her that there was very little chance of it being published, but I was driven to work to piece his story together, and that if this effort were in fact successful, perhaps he might continue to influence a few people for the better—and might even spare another mother the anguish that she has endured and will endure for the rest of her life. The blessing she gave to this project was courageous and selfless.

As for his friends—and he had an awful lot of friends—reactions were varied. Most were extremely enthusiastic and giving. Some were still too captured by grief to process it. A small few were doubtful of my ability to tell Rob’s story, which was of course a valid doubt.

What were some of the difficulties you faced putting the book together?

Foremost among challenges was the process of exploring a neighborhood foreign to me, and in which my presence was not generally welcome. An inherent discomfort lies in a white guy—a Yale graduate no less—entering the homes of mostly black, mostly struggling people and asking for their stories as they related to a man we both cared for and missed. But that was perhaps the most affecting part of this experience: once we started talking about Rob and exchanging stories filled with humor and warmth, those walls between us tended to come down pretty quickly. Dialogue streamed out of the past and, at times, Rob seemed to spring back into being.

Also challenging was the emotional freight that reporting out this story carried, not only on me personally but on all participants. Positive intention charged all of our efforts, but it was depleting to inhabit such a tragedy day in and day out. I experienced guilt as the details of Rob’s life came out of the dark—guilt that even though I lived with him for four years in a small space and had hundreds of conversations with him, I had never become aware of his whole story. In truth, no one had, not even his mother.

What would you say is the impact of Yale on Rob’s life? If you were advising a teenager in his position, would you recommend Yale?

What Rob said somewhat often was, “I don’t hate Yale, I just hate Yalies.” The entitlement bothered him the most, the blithe energy that coursed through classrooms and parties that we deserved this rare experience more than those who weren’t here. There was this outrage kind of underneath his skin that made him resent his own presence there. That was unhealthy, and if I could go back in time and talk to that version of him, I’d say, “Dude, there are entitled assholes everywhere. They might be more concentrated at Yale for obvious reasons, but wherever you live, wherever you work, there will always be entitlement. The key to living successfully in any environment is to keep from being contaminated by it.” His anger, I think, was a kind of contamination.

I risk painting the picture of this brooding Hamlet figure. Rob was not that. He was a bright light. He became a true scientist there and he made fantastic friendships, lifelong friendships that he took with him. And yes, I think he would advise anyone with the opportunity to go to Yale to go to Yale—to go and take advantage of the plentiful resources available, be they academic or social or emotional resources. Let people in despite your biases against what they may represent. Ask people for help. Yes, it’s a lot to ask of an eighteen- or nineteen-year old experiencing such a drastic and all-encompassing change to have that level of maturity, but listen, college is the last time in your life where you have a stable of people—intelligent people—professors, advisers, upperclassmen—whose job it is to help you. If this book has any influence on college-aged kids, I hope it would be that there is no shame in receiving help, even the simplest kind of help, such as sitting with a friend and permitting them to listen, because never again will help be so close by.

What did you learn about Robert Peace that most surprised you? Troubled you?

You didn’t have to know Rob well to understand that he inhabited two vastly different, fiercely insular worlds: the streets he’d come from and the classrooms his abilities allowed him to enter. That was his broad narrative as reported in the newspaper following his death, that Rob Peace was “two people” (having lived in a small room with him for four years, I can assure you that he was absolutely one person). But what I began to learn even before writing this book was that he didn’t live in two worlds. He lived in ten, fifteen, more. He made communities for himself in Rio and Croatia. He spent much of his life, unbeknown to anyone, working to free his father from prison—writing letters, studying in legal libraries, filing appeals. He mentored hundreds of kids as a high school teacher and coach. He all but carried his friends through the travails of life—academically, emotionally, financially. He lived firmly in the center of all these many spheres, shouldered the dependence of so many people, strived to carry all these various pressures with order and grace—and steadfastly refused help in any form along the way. This dynamic was exacerbated by a pattern that emerged in which none of his friends at Yale felt comfortable or capable of offering advice because of the hard way he’d grown up in Newark, and none of his friends in Newark felt comfortable doing the same because this was the guy who’d graduated from Yale. He was heartbreakingly isolated, even in the midst of his closest friends.

So Rob’s life overall was nothing if not surprising and troubling—all that he achieved, all that he failed to achieve, the manner in which he was killed and all the hundreds of decisions, most of them innocuous in the happening, that brought him to that moment. But even in that context, I encountered so much positivity that I do hope courses through these pages—he faced so many challenges, many self-wrought, many induced by the relentless algorithms of poverty, and he never wilted, he never stopped caring about others and, as his mother told me, influencing others.

Why do you think what happened, happened?

My young daughter, clued in to what I’ve been working on for more than half her life, asked me once: “Why did your friend Rob Peace pass away?” I replied, “He had a lot of bad luck, and he made a lot of bad decisions.” This answer is tailored to a child, but I think it remains the most accurate answer. The fact is, we all experience bad luck, we all make bad decisions. I certainly have. Most of mine have been insignificant. But Rob’s bad decisions—because of the circumstances he was born into and those he wrought for himself—were life-ending.

What was the “meaning of Rob’s life”?

The meaning of Rob’s life is closely linked with the staggering contrasts that life encapsulated. Here is a man who made communities all over the world when he traveled, but couldn’t leave his old neighborhood. A man who aspired to be free of the harried, fiscally based existences that most of us lead, yet ended up bound to one of the most harried, fiscally based occupations there is. A man who performed X-ray crystallography in a cancer research lab but couldn’t own an EZ Pass for fear of being traced by police, and so spent much of his brief life in cash-only toll lines between Newark and Manhattan. A man whose ambition was to teach college chemistry and cook out with his friends and family on weekends, who bled to death in the basement beside a gas mask, a butane tank he used for THC extraction, and the Kevlar vest he wore whenever he went outside.

This is the story of a boy from Orange, New Jersey, who earned his way to Yale, flourished there, and then did what almost everyone in his life told him not to do: he came back. He came back and he taught high school, and he was present for his family, and he traveled, and he loved, and he hustled marijuana, and he stumbled through his twenties the way almost everyone stumbles through their twenties, dwelling on greater purpose and ultimately placing himself within the ever-lurking orbit of ruthless urban violence. That’s a messy story. Because it’s messy being a person, and having a consciousness, and having values, often conflicting values. But it’s also a story about love, and not just the standard associations of grace and depth, but the trickier components, the ones that are hard to confront let alone wrap your head around: the warped logic and impossible loyalties and invisible burdens that love can and does generate.

In a broader cultural sense, what would you hope readers take away from this story?

This is the story of one man’s life, a relatively anonymous man who died because he sold drugs—and that stark fact can be and has been sufficient for any given person to dismiss his story as one of potential wasted in the service of thuggery. And if that’s your reaction, you’re perfectly entitled to it. But this book is about details, it’s about empathy—about remembering that everyone does not experience each moment the same way. It’s about getting to know and understand a remarkable, flawed young man. Yes, his life touches on race and class in this country; yes, it illuminates education and entitlement and access; and yes, it speaks to the fact that living a decent life in America can be tremendously difficult. These issues are quite subjective, and they are best served to remain that way; my intent is not to make statements but simply to tell what happened.

I’ve mentioned the idea of seeking out help. Yale has a comprehensive infrastructure in place, geared primarily toward students whose upbringings haven’t necessarily prepared them for college life—academic, emotional, social. There are guidance counselors and writing tutors and cultural advisers, all free and readily available. But it turns out that the kids most likely to take advantage of these resources are those who need it the least: the Exeter graduates, the future Rhodes Scholars, the affluent students who from the day they were born were primed to believe that adults existed almost exclusively to help them. I’ve cited Rob’s aversion to seeking out help as an admission of not belonging. But what do you do about that gap? Who’s most culpable—the students falling behind or the administration unable to pull them forward?

These are questions that lie under the shadow of broader and more bombastic debates. I don’t know the answers, but I do feel like awareness—and empathy—is where anyone’s potential to do good, maybe even cause change, maybe even save a friend’s life, begins.

Interviews

A Conversation with Jeff Hobbs, Author of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

Why did you decide to write this book?

On a Wednesday night in May of 2011, while in the midst of brushing my teeth, I learned that my best friend from college had died violently, pointlessly. I did what anyone does upon losing someone dear: flew to the funeral, said a few words during the service, bowed my head during the burial, made toasts and drank to excess with old friends, mourned, tried to move on. Except that I couldn't move on; I returned home and found myself spending full workdays staring at the knotty wall planking in the garage where I work, mostly remembering good times had with Rob. I wrote a bunch of personal essays weaving together college memories with weak attempts at insight, as well as stabbing at the guilt of having allowed our friendship to grow distant over the decade since we'd graduated. I reached out to mutual friends, spent hours talking on the phone and in person, asking each other, of course, why? This was Robert Peace. Robert Peace was my roommate and best friend at Yale University during four vital years of life. Robert Peace had saved me from fistfights and towed me through heartbreak and made me laugh thousands of times. Robert Peace was a brilliant scientist, a loyal friend, a world traveler, a high school teacher and coach - and a Yale graduate to boot. He was the one who was always going to succeed and do so in spectacular fashion. He was definitively not the one who was going to be shot to death in a basement in the ghetto outside Newark, surrounded by marijuana. But that was how he left this world. In the end, there was not so much a specific decision moment of, "I am going to write a book about Rob," but rather a process of being caught in this wave of loss and curiosity - of needing to know more - which only gathered strength as weeks and months passed. To some degree, no matter the medium or intention, everyone writes about what conflicts them, and nothing has ever conflicted me more than the death of Rob Peace, and I believed that some catharsis could be wrought in telling his story - his true story - not just for myself but for all the many, many lives with which his intersected, most of which were the better for that intersection having occurred. Of course, I wouldn't presume to embark on such a sensitive undertaking without the support of his friends, family, and most importantly, his mother, Jackie Peace.

How did Rob's friends and family react to your intention to write his biography? Can you tell us a bit about the research process?

To say that Jackie Peace had given all of herself in order to nurture Rob's intelligence and curiosity in a neighborhood in which neither trait had much currency would be a vast understatement. When she lost him, she lost not only her only child, but all those decades of sacrifice - she lost her identity and her hope, and I can't imagine anyone who has invested more hope in another human being as she did in her son. I didn't know Jackie well at all when I first sat down in her living room to speak formally about the book. She told me that her lone consolation after his death was, "I think my son influenced a lot of people, I really do believe that." Feeling very small in proximity to this woman and her grief, I replied that, if she was willing, I wanted to write a book - a book about Rob's life, not his death. I told her that there was very little chance of it being published, but I was driven to work for the six months or so necessary to piece his story together, and that if this effort were in fact successful, perhaps he might continue to influence people in some way.

The research ended up taking more than a year, and the breadth of it speaks to the breadth of the life Rob led. I would one moment be speaking to the COO of a major bank, the next to a tarmac worker at Newark International Airport, the next to a Croatian fashion model from Pula, the next to a Yale professor, the next to a prison inmate in Trenton, the next to the mayor of Newark, the next to a drug dealer in the hood, and so on. These conversations were not always comfortable; they rarely were, being as most of them took place in neighborhoods in which I was not necessarily welcome and not always safe. I had a gun drawn on me once in a North Philadelphia drug den. A GPS mishap had me walking obliviously with my notebook, wearing a blue button down, through the heart of Newark's gangland on 18th Avenue. But all these barriers that existed - which were representative of all the barriers Rob had broken down in order to matriculate at Yale - tended to fall pretty fast, due to the clear commonality of caring about Rob and wanting to contribute to something positive in the wake of his ultimate fate.

Describe the neighborhood Rob grew up in, and the "barriers he broke down."

Rob grew up in a neighborhood outside Newark, colloquially named Illtown. When he was born, in 1980, the previous two decades worth of white flight, the decline of the manufacturing sector and rise of federal project housing, the rapid flourishing of the drug trade and its violence - not to mention the riots of 1967 - had all but cemented the neighborhood as a place of permanent poverty. Crack and its violence were in full bloom outside his front door; hustlers governed the night and much of the day. I could give you many details about how specifically Rob grew up in this milieu, but I'll limit it to one: when he went to Burger King with his high school friends - they called themselves the Burger Boyz - he would grab two dozen ketchup packets from the bin and suck on them all afternoon, because he couldn't afford a burger. Suffice to say, he didn't have much. His father went to prison for life when he was seven years old, an incredible burden that he would carry quietly throughout his life. He was thus forced to become fundamentally an adult at an unfairly young age. But he had a home, owned by his family for over thirty years. He had the natural gift of a cavernous intellect, paired with the curiosity and drive to fill it to capacity with knowledge, even though knowledge could be very dangerous in his environment (for instance, if a group of street hustlers got to thinking that Rob thought he was better than them, that was a problem, one he worked tirelessly to avoid). He had a mother who loved him to world's end and had aspirations for which she was willing to sacrifice. He had loyal friends who challenged him and watched his back. He had impassioned teachers who recognized his potential and made the hard choices necessary to foster it. When he was admitted to Yale, that accomplishment was shared by so many - Rob Peace had made it out. What no one fully understood was that Rob didn't aspire to "make it out." He was deeply attached to the streets on which he'd become a man, and to the people who'd helped him do so. Yale University, and all the associations those words call to mind, was not enough to bring him to think any differently - to, in his view, forsake his roots.

How did his experience at Yale contrast to the coming of age you've just described?

He had an awful lot of experiences at Yale - most of them positive, a few of them negative - that I'm not sure the degree to which they can be reduced to an overall "experience." Paired randomly as roommates freshman year, Rob and I bonded first over the irony that I was a white guy from the country who ran sprints for the track team and he was a black guy from the hood who played water polo (initiation for which found him wearing a toga in the dining hall singing Madonna's "Express Yourself.") He majored in Molecular Biochemistry & Biophysics, which is about as easy as it sounds. He walked around hunched over, wearing a piece of nylon fabric over his cornrows called a "skully," and at a glance he did not look like a member of the student body; he looked like he worked in the dining hall or custodial, and he seemed to take some kind of pride in that, fostering his "otherness." There were subtle and not-so-subtle racial dynamics in play - inevitable in such a privileged and rarefied arena - but he never seemed bothered by this, except for one time, when he was working in the dining hall and a group of prep school kids left their trays on the table for him to clean up - again, not aware that he was a classmate - and he was so incensed that he put his fist through the wall. He smoked and sold weed - a lot of weed - but since he never seemed to spend any money, it was easy to assume that he was saving up for graduate school, or helping out his mother, or both - that if it was not exactly honorable, it was something he knew how to do, money that he needed, and because this was marijuana and we lived in a college dorm, it was safe. I remember going to one of his water polo games and being sort of hypnotized by the way he thrashed through the water, with power but not much grace, his teeth bared in a perpetual leering grin as he talked smack and threw elbows. His joy, which drifted upward into the stands, was total - and that was the Rob Peace whom I remember from college. And at the end of it all, when we watched him receive his Yale diploma onstage with that smile of his, a smile as big as all the outdoors, he seemed not only chosen but destined to fulfill all of his dreams, all the dreams others had placed on him.

What did you learn about Robert Peace that most surprised you? Troubled you?

You didn't have to know Rob well to understand that he inhabited two vastly different, fiercely insular worlds: the streets he'd come from and the classrooms his abilities allowed him to enter. That was his broad narrative, and again, he took pride in entering the latter without leaving the former behind, a pride that I don't believe was nourishing. But what I began to learn even before writing this book was that he didn't live in two worlds. He lived in ten, fifteen, more. He made communities for himself in Rio and Croatia. He spent much of his life, unbeknownst to anyone, working to free his father from prison - writing letters, studying in legal libraries, filing appeals. He mentored hundreds of kids as a high school teacher and coach. He all but carried his friends through the travails of life - academically, emotionally, financially. He lived firmly in the center of all these many spheres, shouldered the dependence of so many people, strived to carry all these various pressures with order and grace - and steadfastly refused help in any form along the way. And this broad word, "help," has a lot to do with the titular tragedy. He was surrounded by people who cared passionately about his well being, who would have done anything for him, and yet he saw seeking help, even the simplest kind of help such as permitting a friend to listen, as an expression of weakness, even a source of shame. That view was compounded with a pattern that emerged in which none of his friends at Yale felt comfortable or capable of offering advice because of the hard way he'd grown up in Newark, and none of his friends in Newark felt comfortable doing the same because this was the guy who'd graduated from Yale. He was heartbreakingly isolated, even in the midst of his closest friends. So Rob's life overall was nothing if not surprising and troubling - all that he achieved, all that he failed to achieve, the manner by which he was killed and all the hundreds of decisions, most of them innocuous in the happening, that brought him to that moment. But even in that context, I encountered so much positivity that I do hope courses through these pages - he faced so many challenges, many self-wrought, many induced by the relentless algorithms of poverty, and he never wilted, he never stopped caring about others and, as his mother told me, influencing others. That caring played a large part in some of the poor decisions he made, both drug-related and not. Though no one was in the basement when he was shot except the man in a ski mask who pulled the trigger (who remains uncaught over three years later), it is strongly believed that he was taking action to protect two of his best friends, one of whom had a wife and son, all of them upstairs in the house that awful night.

In a broader, cultural sense, what would you hope readers take away from this story?

This is the story of one man's life, a relatively anonymous man who died because he sold drugs - and that stark fact can be and has been sufficient for any given person to dismiss his story as one of potential wasted in the service of thuggery. And if that's your reaction, you're perfectly entitled to it. But this book is about details, it's about empathy, it's about getting to know and understand a remarkable, flawed young man. Yes, his life touches on race and class in this country, yes it illuminates certain shortcomings of the educational system, yes it speaks to the fact that living a decent life in America can be tremendously difficult. These issues are quite subjective, and they are best served to remain that way; my intent is not to make statements but simply to tell what happened. For instance, Yale has a comprehensive infrastructure in place, geared primarily toward students whose upbringings haven't necessarily prepared them for college life - academic, emotional, social. There are guidance counselors and writing tutors and cultural advisors, all free and readily available. But it turns out that the kids most likely to take advantage of these resources are those who need it the least: the Exeter graduates, the future Rhodes Scholars, the affluent students who from the day they were born were primed to believe that adults existed almost exclusively to help them. I've mentioned the idea of seeking out help, and Rob's aversion to it as an admission of not belonging. But what do you do about that gap? Who's most culpable - the students falling behind or the administration unable to pull them forward? These are questions that haven't necessarily been asked before, as they lie under the shadow of broader and more bombastic debates. I don't know the answers, but I do feel like awareness is the first step. There are many dozen discoveries like this in the book -these seemingly small manifestations of wider socio-economic issues that are all but invisible. They shouldn't be invisible. People - and particularly young people - should be talking about them. And I have a feeling they will once they've seen them throughthe eyes of Rob Peace.

What have you discovered lately?

Through researching Rob's story, my biggest discovery has been nonfiction itself, some but not all of it related to this book. Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow is an incendiary journey through the United States penal system - wow, that gal is as smart as she is fearless, and she's able to make a grim study of prison policy exciting. I read Marina Keegan's The Opposite of Loneliness - which is interesting in that it is half fiction, have nonfiction. I approached this one with a bit of trepidation due to its unique and heartbreaking posthumous route to publication, and was blown away by the attention to detail, the deep earnestness that I have much nostalgia for from being twenty-two years old and striving, her ability to just write what she sees, with kindness and without self-consciousness. Her ability to redeem people with just a sentence or phrase is enviable. Susan Cain's Quiet is this joyful celebration of being an introvert in a culture governed by the "Extrovert Ideal," something I've always struggled with personally. She wrote it beautifully and the scope of her research is stunning - I think a must-read for introverts and extroverts alike. I like a good thriller - I recently burned through Hank Steinberg's Out of Range in just two days, it's a fun one, and written with care, sans the overwrought language and lazy similes that sometimes characterize the genre. It's been a while since I've really dug into a big literary fiction book, which is all I ever used to read (with all the pretentiousness that statement implies), but I'm halfway through Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See and it's such an experience, has rekindled that old, almost forgotten joy of sitting up in bed in the early a.m. with the reading light on and my wife and children and dog sound asleep, and simply inhabiting a story and siphoning its energy. A book takes you away like no other form of art, because it doesn't just happen to you like a movie or a song or a painting. You actively enter into it and participate in it, and, if it's great, give yourself up to it. Doerr's book has me. Read that one, just read it.

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The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
Palegirl More than 1 year ago
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 poverty-stricken city, raised by a hard-working, loving single mom.  He loved his mom dearly and wanted to take care of her and honor the sacrifices she made for him. He loved to read and learn and excelled in school.  It paid off when he got a full-ride to Yale.  But then what? This is an interesting and telling book on what it means to be a young person in this country and faced with not only difficult choices, but uncertain socio-economic futures .  Mr. Hobbs never judges.  This tale is told journalistically and with heart.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book and think it was very well written I found myself getting sad toward the end knowing that he was going to get killed but almost hoping he wouldn't Kudos to the author on his first nonfiction I enjoyed the way he put himself into the story & sometimes told the story from his own point of view Recommend this as it is nonfiction but reads like a novel
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A brilliant mind and loving mother who struggled to get him the best education she could were not enough to save him from himself. An Ivy League education doesnt insulate you from stupid decisions. A very good cautionary tale, should be read by all HS students.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is an amazing story. It is filled with the uplifting story of Robert’s rise out of the slums to attain an Ivy League education. Yet this is not a feel good story as Robert ends up falling victim to the streets he tried to leave behind. Good stuff!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jeff Hobbs has done a wonderful job of re-creating his relationship with his college roommate at Yale. A horrific story that has lessons to be learned about the effects of one's background on the remainder of their life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book captured me. The author told the story well and although he was Rob's friend, he presents an unbiased tale. At the end of the day, it is a telling tale of what generations of poverty and hopelessness combined the years of drug use can do to a bright and talented person's trajectory. I couldn't help but wonder how much of this tragedy would have been avoided if Rob had never gotten into the drug scene.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this book and I cannot stop thinking about it. It is well written as Jeff Hobbs describes the multifaceted world that Robert Peace lived in and the person he becomes. Even though I knew what was going to happen in the end, it still left me shaken. Although Robert was the central figure in the book, there are many other characters who I wanted to succeed and cheered for while reading it. While some do succeed, others cannot escape their environment and fail. I cannot help but think about the hundreds of thousands of others living in that same situation. I believe this book will continue to receive the buzz and accolades it deserves in the upcoming future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This young man loved and worshiped his Father only to lose him to injustice. He tried to restore him by following his example which cost him his life. This is a story of ?ove and devotion in so many ways.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It took me out of my comfort zone, thank you for sharing such a tragic life.
MahMah More than 1 year ago
Sad to say, Author Hobbs had me 'judging' all over the place as I read his devastating but beautifully written chronicle covering the short but amazing life of his onetime Yale roommate and friend, Robert Peace. By the time I finished the book I was so filled with JUDGMENTS, outrage, pity, and sorrow that I was almost sorry I had ventured to read it! But then I remembered a quote I'd once read by Viktor Frankel, author, neurologist and psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor (1905-1997): "No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same." So I 'asked' and for this reason I give this book FIVE stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i read this book almost none stop till about the last third at which point i just wanted to jump ahead and see where it was that his life started spiraling downward i recommend the book for its reality check.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really don't see Rob as being a thug. Thugs have no regard for human life. Rob apparently had a heart big heart, but made some bad decisions. Moral of the story, always put yourself first. Rob was always trying to take care of others & then back peddling to come up with a quick fix; one that cost him his life. Good job Jeff!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Phenomenal yet sad story of a young man who had so much potential and opportunity but who would not conform to societal norms in order to be successful. It is a must read for all young and old men of color, single mothers raising sons, and anyone else with inner conflict between everyday life pressure, peer pressure, and the pressure to succeed in a tough, judgmental world. It is also a must read for those who live in glass houses and have no concept of the struggles of the poor. I am so moved by this story of class divisiveness and yet angry by Rob's inability to see the forest for the trees and grab hold of an opportunity to make inroads into this divide and show that one's upbringing/class does not mean instant failure when given an opportunity to succeed. In my mind, Rob died as a hero and inspiration to others, especially young men, in many ways despite his chosen means of making money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Could not put it down well written
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hobbs did a great job of thoroughly weaving through the colorful and textured life of Robert Peace. This is more than a story about promise wasted ,it is the story of existential circumstances and insurmountable choices. I commend Hobbs on his ability to provide the reader with all sides of Rob from a unfiltered , unbiased perspective. Excellent read for anyone and everyone !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a book, this is an excellent read, painstakingly researched and heartbreaking story of the life of a young man with such enormous potential that met an unfortunate, violent, and all too soon ending. As a story, the life of Robert Peace is an incredibly inspiring tale of grit, determination, brilliance, and unshakable tenacity. It is heartbreaking to imagine the incredible heights Robert could have achieved and the contributions he could have made to science or any field had he made it. I believe that while his talents were wasted, I am sure that he lived and very full life and made the best of his years. I so much admire his mother Jackie, as well as Robert for their ability to overcome and for their perserverance. This story is incredible touching and sad, and I am certain I am not alone in saying that I wish the ending had been very, very diffrrent, not just for Robert but also for so many other promising youths whose lives are ended all too soon and while they had so very much more to do and offer in life. Rest in Peace, Shaun.
senated More than 1 year ago
He beat the odds then the odds beat him. A real tragic story about a kid who, despite his disadvantaged  background, earns his college degree from Yale. He has the education and talent to go any direction, but decides Instead to become a heavy drug user and dealer. It was only a matter of time before you knew what would Kill him in the end
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book! One of the best books I've read, Jeff Hobbs did a great job taking you on the journey of Rob Peace life. I still can't believe he's dead. Jeff Hobbs you are an amazing person for allowing Robert Peace to touch the lives of people that are still alive to read his story and to inspire people around them to be great even when your enviroment make it impossible!!!
IrishIL More than 1 year ago
This was a some what difficult book for me to get through. Mr. Hobbs' story of his friend Rob Peace just seems to drag on and on. I think if he could have eliminated some of his own thoughts and to get on with the story, I would have liked it better; however I was anxious to find out why and how he was killed. It was a good read and very interesting life of one man who came from a poor family but still managed to put himself through school including college; making great grades and continuing to make something of himself after college. He took care of his mother and tried his best to help his father. It took me sometime to get through this book, but in the end it was worth it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Short review, awesomely put together. Had some rough spots where it did drag a little, but twisted and rolled and over and over. Makes you realize in short how well DO we know people, or let them know us.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A truly heartfelt book. I will be sharing this with my students. So easy to judge from the outside until you understand the heart and soul of an amazing person.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
OK, I am over 60 yrs old and have never cried at the end of a book...and I have read a lot of tragic stories (true crime, memoirs)..This story really touched me on many levels..beautifully written by Hobbs (who better -someone who knew him but had objective distant ). I think we all can identify with several people in the story..his mom, his friends.. What a helpless feeling when you try to give someone advice but don't want to push..and then they don't listen. At one level, it describes the process of what a man goes through to "find his way" in life....the pressures that women do not have (we have our own). Just so sad...makes you wonder what his life would have become if he had lived longer. Someone should make a movie from this book....maybe required reading in high school...highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author drew me into Robert's life immediately and by the end of the book I felt I had lost my own friend. I wish I could have know Robert and helped him see what a positive role he could play in the world rather than the negative and dark path he chose in the end. Read this book. It will change you for the better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to read this book for a class, but I wasn't even 50 pages in when I realized I wasn't only reading the book for school, but because the author had captured my attention. I wanted to know about Rob, his family, friends, and ultimately where everything went wrong. Tragic is exactly the word I would use to describe Roberts life. Born with the expectation by society that he would grow up to be nobody who would either end up in prison or prematurely in a grave. By sheer force of will and determination shared with his mother Robert beat the odds and got an education only some can dream of. Sadly that wasn't enough. Even with all that promise and education Robert couldn't find it in himself to turn his back on the lifestyle that he was raised in and the people that he truly related to. In the case of Nature vs. Nurture, nature won and Robert lost. This is an excellent book and I would recommend it to anyone. Not so you can judge this man or the people in his life for their choice, but because I think everyone could use a little self reflection that this book gives.
mdgirlLB More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. Very good writing. Really helped you get to know Rob Peace and his life. So sad he chose the life he did after college. The only draw back I had was there were times when the story line was long and too drawn out. I had to skip over pages that I felt did not matter to the story. All in all, a very good book.