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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Book Club Pick: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace


When Jeff Hobbs and Robert Peace were randomly assigned to be roommates freshman year at Yale, they were amused that each was the odd man out in his sport: Hobbs stood out as a white guy on the track team, and Peace was the only black man on the water polo team. Hobbs sensed right away that Peace hadn't had as privileged an upbringing as his own, but it wasn't until one day when he casually asked what Peace's father did for a living that this really hit home. "He's in prison- manslaughter," Peace answered simply.



Peace was from the rough streets of Newark, NJ, where his single mother worked long hours in food service for a nursing home to pay for the parochial schools he attended. Even as a toddler his intellect was apparent- the day care teachers called him "the little professor." At Yale on scholarship, Peace excelled in the difficult fields of molecular biochemistry and biophysics and graduated with honors. But within a few years Peace would be murdered back in Newark, the neighborhood he had never really left behind.

Peace supplemented his Yale scholarship by working in food service and maintenance - and by selling marijuana. After college and a hiatus during which he worked as a teacher and avoided the drug trade, Peace eventually fell back into selling pot to supplement his income.

Hobbs, who had remained suite-mates with Peace all through college and counted him as a true friend, does a thorough and sensitive job of tracing Peace's life from his childhood through his Yale years and his adult life. His treatment of the subject in The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League is very straightforward, and he leaves us to draw our own conclusions about why and how Peace's promise ended so tragically. This poignant biography was named one of the best books of 2014 by New York Times Book Review.



- Suzanne Summers Lapierre, Kings Park Library

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