Living and Dying in Brick City: An E.R. Doctor Returns Home

A riveting personal exploration of the healthcare crisis facing inner-city communities, written by an emergency room physician who grew up in the very neighborhood he is now serving

Sampson Davis is best known as one of three friends from inner-city Newark who made a pact in high school to become doctors. Their book The Pact and their work through the Three Doctors Foundation have inspired countless young men and women to strive for goals they otherwise would not have dreamed they could attain. In this book, Dr. Davis looks at the healthcare crisis in the inner city from a rare perspective: as a doctor who works on the front line of emergency medical care in the community where he grew up, and as a member of that community who has faced the same challenges as the people he treats every day. He also offers invaluable practical advice for those living in such communities, where conditions like asthma, heart disease, stroke, obesity, and AIDS are disproportionately endemic.

Dr. Davis’s sister, a drug addict, died of AIDS; his brother is now paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair as a result of a bar fight; and he himself did time in juvenile detention—a wake-up call that changed his life. He recounts recognizing a young man who is brought to the E.R. with critical gunshot wounds as someone who was arrested with him when he was a teenager during a robbery gone bad; describes a patient whose case of sickle-cell anemia rouses an ethical dilemma; and explains the difficulty he has convincing his landlord and friend, an older woman, to go to the hospital for much-needed treatment. With empathy and hard-earned wisdom, Living and Dying in Brick City presents an urgent picture of medical care in our cities. It is an important resource guide for anyone at risk, anyone close to those at risk, and anyone who cares about the fate of our cities.

Reviews and Praise

“Some memoirs are heartfelt, some are informative and some are even important. Few, however, are all three. . . . As rare as it is for a book to be heartfelt, well written and inspirational, it’s even rarer for a critic to say that a book should be required reading. This ought to be included in high school curricula—for the kids in the suburbs who have no idea what life is like in the inner cities, and for the kids in the inner cities to know that there is a way out.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          –The Star-Ledger

“Dramatic and powerful.”

-New York Daily News

“A pull-no-punches look at health care from a seldom-heard sector. Living and Dying isn’t a sky-is-falling chronicle. It’s a real, gutsy view of a city hospital.”


“Gripping . . . a prescription to help kids dream bigger than their circumstances, from someone who really knows.”



“[Dr. Davis] is really a local hero. His story has inspired so many of our young people, and he’s got his finger on the pulse of what is a challenge in Newark, and frankly across America….I think his book is going to make a big impact.”

-Mayor Cory Booker

“Davis uses the stories of his encounters with patients at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center to illustrate his path from street kid to physician. Those same medical stories alert the reader to the health issues and social struggles that plague the inner-city population; chapters cover such topics as gang violence, narcotics dependence, domestic abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy, mental illness and obesity. Davis also addresses the problems caused by poor health care access and lack of insurance, and provides additional resources for understanding and assistance throughout the book.  Davis’s story is remarkable, and the combination of patient stories and personal recollections in this memoir makes for a powerful reading experience. Hopefully, his book will also be an impetus for change.”

Roni K. Devlin, Literary LIfe Bookstore

“A page-turning wake-up call.”


“This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Sampson Davis’s personal story is powerful, and his experiences in the ER room underscore the lack of effective health care in our underserved communities. Newark is lucky to have him as a citizen, and we are all lucky that he has shared his insights and expertise with us in Living and Dying in Brick City. His is an important voice in the conversation on health care in this country.”

-Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore


“Davis – an African American who grew up in a tough neighborhood in Newark, aka Brick City, beat the odds, and became an emergency room doctor in the hospital where he was born – is a likable but flawed hero.  And his book is a page-turner as he and Washington Post writer and editor Page, coauthor of the best-selling memoir The Pact (2002) with Davis and his best childhood friends, create memorable scenes.  To compellingly tell the story of the health crisis in poor, urban America they draw on Davis’ experiences in the emergency room and in his own family.  His dad gets prostate cancer, his older sister contracts AIDS, and his older, alcoholic brother becomes paralyzed because of a fight.  Davis describes trying and failing to help such emergency-room patients as the victim of domestic violence and a 700-pound woman.  he tries to figure out whether sickle-cell-anemia patients who come into the ER complaining of pain truly need prescription medication or if they’re just looking for an easy fix.  A personal and thought-provoking look at inner-city health.

-Karen Springen, Booklist

“This book just might save your life. Sampson Davis shares fascinating stories from the E.R. and addresses the inner-city health crisis. His book is an important investment in your most valuable resource: your health.”

-Suze Orman, author of The Money Class

“This book is living proof that behind the boarded-up windows of one of America’s most neglected cities, beyond the sorrow and the pain, there is much more than we’ve come to expect. There is hope. There is change. There is redemption for Brick City. The book will open your eyes to a part of the world that most of us only see from behind the wheel of a tightly locked car. Sampson Davis is not afraid to lift heavy objects in this world. I’m glad he shared his journey with us, so that we know it is possible.”

-James McBride, author of The Color of Water