HAVING PEACE AS A LAST NAME doesn’t
guarantee you a long and peaceful life.
That may be especially true if you grew
up in the Newark area. And it can be true
even if your smarts and talent earn you an
education at Yale University.
In The Short and Tragic Life of Robert
Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left New-
ark for the Ivy League (Scribner), author
Jeff Hobbs explores why it is so difficult to
transcend a troubling back-
ground and achieve a life of
prosperity and tranquility.
Hobbs was Peace’s
roommate and best friend
at Yale. He was moved to
write the memoir after
Peace was slain at an indoor
pot farm in Newark in 2011.
The two came from
opposite circumstances. Hobbs, a doctor’s
son, grew up in an 18th-century farm-
house in Chester County, Pennsylvania.
His parents were married nearly 30 years
when he started Yale.
Peace was born in East Orange in 1980
to an unwed mother. His father, a small-time drug dealer, lived nearby. When Peace
was seven, his dad was imprisoned for
murder. Prison visits punctuated Peace’s
childhood. So did neighborhood violence.
But Peace, the title reminds us, was
brilliant. Together with his mother’s
determination and some luck, Peace’s gifts
landed him at Newark’s prestigious St.
Benedict’s Prep School. Just before his 1998
graduation, he met a rich benefactor at St.
Benedict’s who paid his Yale tuition.
A happy, productive life seemed his
for the taking. Alas, the past, Hobbs
reminds us, does not
always release its grip
on those struggling to
The Short and
Tragic Life is an affecting, important
story told with precision and tremendous
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