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Sad End of a Street Survivor: ‘The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace’

Robert Peace

Robert Peace at Yale

Yesenia Vasquez

Part memoir, part elegy, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is one of this fall’s best nonfiction books – the story of a young man who survived the streets of Newark, New Jersey, to earn a full scholarship to Yale, only to be murdered on his home turf in a suspected drug dispute. The book was written by Peace’s Yale roommate, Jeff Hobbs. “I’d never done journalism,” says Hobbs, whose 2007 novel, The Tourists, was a bestseller. “My access to Rob was limited to our experience in an affluent, rarefied place. It felt presumptuous to go to where he grew up, where his strongest relationships were, and say, ‘Tell me your stories.’ ”

But Hobbs, the son of a surgeon, did just that, interviewing dozens of Peace’s friends and family members for a story that examines race and privilege and the agony of being caught between two worlds. Peace, whose father died in prison while serving a life sentence for double homicide, graduated from Yale in 2002 with distinction in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, but later drifted, selling weed and teaching science at his former high school. In 2011, he was shot in a Newark basement in a case that remains unsolved. “He was so charismatic and magnetic, the guy who was going to succeed,” Hobbs says. “I wrote the book in part because I was so dissatisfied and offended by the newspapers’ depiction of Rob, the cliché of potential squandered.”

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