Born in Kansas City, Missouri, he was a prominent Sovietologist at Princeton University. He served as an attaché at the American Embassy in Moscow from 1944–1953. He received his PhD degree from Harvard University in 1958; his doctoral dissertation was later revised and published as the book Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx. His biographies of Joseph Stalin are cited by the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies as his greatest contribution. Robert Tucker is also responsible for the coining of "military communism" to distinguish communist regimes which militarize the party.
At Princeton he started the Russian Studies Program, and he still holds the position of Professor of Politics Emeritus and IBM Professor of International Studies Emeritus at the school.