a wide-ranging, impressionistic tour of a nation whose citizens’ existence has become intertwined with a single corporation ... As MacGillis notes, understanding how a single corporation became so widely and deeply entrenched requires historical perspective ... What MacGillis feels is underappreciated is the geographical remapping of wealth—and, with it, power—that the transformation has brought about ... MacGillis describes how, while rich corporations and their top employees have settled in a small number of wealthy coastal cities, the rest of the American landscape has been leached of opportunities ... These numbers document a stark divergence, but they don’t capture its human dimensions. That is MacGillis’s goal, as he explores what the erosion of power and possibility means for regular people ... In some of MacGillis’s stories, the connection to Amazon is so tenuous as to be almost indiscernible; the characters’ problems seem to arise more from larger forces, such as globalization, gentrification, and the opioid crisis, than from any one corporation’s influence ... Addressing the regional imbalances in America would be an enormous undertaking, and MacGillis doesn’t presume to offer prescriptions. But his book suggests one very big place to start: Serious workplace reforms would affect hundreds of thousands of workers, as well as help reshape the broader labor landscape.
The terror hits again and again ... a grounded and expansive examination of the American economic divide. Whether he’s introducing an office supply entrepreneur in Texas, the leader of a Seattle gospel group or a retired Baltimore steelworker going back to work, the reader — me, you — will feel that drop in the stomach, the dread of what we know is coming. Here they are, people with dreams and families and flaws and aspirations, and something bad is going to happen to them. That bad thing is Amazon ... This is much more than a story of retail. It’s about real estate. It’s about lobbying, data centers and the CIA. It’s about revolving doors in Washington, D.C., and cardboard folders in Ohio. It’s about a social fabric disintegrating while corporations duck paying taxes. It’s about a stunning transfer of wealth into Amazon’s coffers, all before the COVID-19 pandemic began and the company reaped even more ... an indictment in fact but not in tone. I’ve been meaner to Amazon in these short paragraphs than MacGillis is in his entire book. There’s probably a reason the publishers left the word 'Amazon' out of the title: This book is neither a hagiography nor a targeted attack. Instead, like the HBO series The Wire, it reveals the way economic, political and social systems affect individual stories. MacGillis wants readers to see how the systems Amazon both exploited and created affect so much of our economy, building the case brick by brick. In almost every instance, he finds a way in through a personal story or two. It takes a skillful journalist to weave data and anecdotes together so effectively ... Where others have written of an urban-rural economic divide, MacGillis parses it to show that wealth has been concentrated in certain cities and left others behind ... Reading these people’s stories will break your heart. But you should read them.
... urgent ... Through interviews, careful investigative reporting and vignettes from across the country, MacGillis deftly unravels the strong grip Amazon has on the United States, from the ground level — in the inhumane working conditions of the warehouse, in rural towns upended by deindustrialization and subject to the glint of Amazon’s economic promise — to the gilded halls of Washington, D.C., where Amazon’s lobbyists flock ... Rather than the smooth story of innovation that makes Amazon’s rise to power inevitable, MacGillis reminds us that the company’s totalizing influence is one of parasitic opportunism, filling the spaces left by the decline of American manufacturing and taking advantage of industrial consolidation. Through careful detail and deeply humanizing portraits of communities impacted by Amazon, MacGillis gives us a picture of contemporary America as mere survival under precarity — the simple need for shelter, food and a safe workplace.
MacGillis doesn’t spend much time trying to contextualize or get inside the head of the richest man on Earth; Fulfillment is much more interested in exploring the vast infernal machine Bezos has constructed and in following the personal journeys of Americans caught up in its gears ... MacGillis’ skills as a journalist are on full display in Fulfillment, which gracefully interweaves the personal histories of people trying to get by in what the writer aptly calls 'the landscape of inequality across the country' with an account of the big-picture events and political/market manipulations that sculpted that terrain ... Like any good detective, MacGillis does a thorough dusting for those prints and outlines the (sometimes literal) bodies in chalk as part of his investigation into how Amazon has changed America ... MacGillis is able to compress 131 years of labor history, tense race relations, white flight from Baltimore, the collapse of manufacturing in America, and the devaluation of blue-collar work through the point of view of a former Bethlehem Steel employee working at Sparrows Point’s Amazon fulfillment center ... a very information-rich text, and it can take awhile to sift through all the data and historical tidbits. It is also, to be blunt, a dispiriting read. While there are moments of effective resistance described in the book, it doesn’t offer a hopeful vision of the future. For folks who are already burnt out on doom-scrolling and quarantine-induced existential dread, this book may hit you like a pallet full of back-breaking straws. But the sober, clear-eyed analysis and emotionally involving stories it provides are worth pushing through the “shit sucks” bleakness of it all. You can’t change anything until you see it for what it is. And Fulfillment is a fantastic microscope: It’s not its fault that the slides it’s showing us are so hard to look at.
Using the tech giant as a focal point allows MacGillis to show that this state of affairs was a choice, not an inevitability. It’s not that 'good jobs left'; the transformation of work was engineered. Fulfillment meticulously documents how that process plays out, with the fate of millions haggled over by a handful of people in tucked-away conference rooms.
The most memorable sections of the book feature people like Bodani who straddle two worlds ... The book is good, too, on Amazon’s relationship to politics and power. MacGillis takes the reader inside the anonymous rooms where officials quietly agree to tax incentives for Amazon to put warehouses in their districts ... To his credit, MacGillis resists the temptation to offer a tidy list of solutions to the complex problems he chronicles, though some of his ideas (unions, anti-trust policy) can be read between the lines. Yet the book’s kaleidoscopic structure can be disorientating. MacGillis dives deep into people’s life stories, then abandons them abruptly, only to return a few hundred pages later ... Some of his stories are so tangential to Amazon that they feel out of place. It would have been interesting, too, to hear from some people who believe their lives or locales have benefited from the company’s rise. That said, the book’s value at this moment in history is unmistakable. MacGillis has written an illuminating and richly reported portrait, not of a company, but of the country it has helped to reshape.
Alec MacGillis’s new book...captures America’s queasy relationship with its newest retail titan. What it reveals is a country that has been falling apart for quite some time, and a company that has been willing and able to turn a failure of public policy into private power ... The book is less an examination of the company than an examination of America through its lens ... Each chapter of Fulfillment is a beautifully written and sometimes overwhelmingly detailed story. You get the feeling that MacGillis is fighting to overcome the perceived gap between his likely white-collar, winners-taking-all readers, and the workers he writes about, through sheer force of detail. In this, the book has something in common with classic works that exposed the plight of the poor to those better off, like George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier or Michael Harrington’s The Other America ... What you don’t get a sense of in this book is Amazon’s structure and the range of its activities. To be fair, this isn’t the direction in which MacGillis is pointing his lens. But it’s important for understanding what might happen in Amazon’s future and ours ... What MacGillis’s book makes obvious is that Amazon will not stop squeezing every drop from workers until those workers have more power.
Amazon, in other words, is perhaps the most unifying entity in 21st-century American society. It is the campfire we have chosen to commune around, and MacGillis’ book takes a wide, expansive look at how this campfire has become a firestorm ... MacGillis approaches his subject from the proverbial side as opposed to head-on. He reports widely, stitching together a portrait of workers, families, and towns that have been forever affected by Amazon. He describes his aim as wanting to provide readers not with an audit of the company but rather 'a closer look at the America that fell in the company’s lengthening shadow' ... MacGillis organizes many of his chapters around the ways in which Amazon excels at these sorts of out-of-sight operations — lobbying, tax loopholes, data centers ... I’m certainly a mark for a book that tells the stories of cities like Seattle and Dayton not with stats but instead via long quotations from writers like Charles D’Ambrosio and Paul Laurence Dunbar. But the book’s literariness is overstated. I found Fulfillment to have more in common with the horror and science fiction genres, where Amazon is the shark, the murderer, the Frankenstein, met (wisely) with caution by some and with wide-eyed optimism by others ... A small portion of the book is devoted to the frenzied competition over which city would land Amazon’s second headquarters, and I vow right now, to all presses and writers: if you write a book about the embarrassing 'HQ2' fiasco, we will review it ... MacGillis asks us to truly process what Amazon’s pandemic profitability means for the nation ... sobering.
... heartfelt ... It’s unlikely that Fulfillment will change behaviors. This must be squarely faced. Most people, presented with the option of shopping for literally anything in the world from the comfort of their living room couch and having it seamlessly delivered to their doorstep the next day, will not forsake that mind-boggling convenience for any reason ... But if Fulfillment makes even a few thousand of those consumers more mindful, if it prompts even a few thousand of them to remember that they have shops over on their Main Street that badly need their support and will greet them with smiles rather than an Amazon van dashing away in the dead of night, well, that will be a kind of victory.
... an intimate introduction to people living and working in Amazon's shadow as their home cities and states transform around them ... MacGillis, a reporter for ProPublica, devotes much of his writing to intricate portraits ... These personal stories are sweeping and in-depth, and not all connect directly to Amazon. But most bring to light some facet of the company or socioeconomic forces shaping the communities affected by it.
... a mind-bogglingly thorough book, a hybrid of urban history, reportage, profile and research on people and places that have been impacted by the retail behemoth ... MacGillis is equally adept in animating the economic picture ... The author contrasts the sepia-toned pasts of Sparrows Point, Md., and Seattle with a present in which an Amazon boot print has transformed each city’s fabric. When these places were more affordable, when there were well-paying jobs to be had, community and opportunity flourished. These sections of the book, while richly detailed and researched, feel overwrought and overly long at times, as if embroidered from a different project ... a compendium of tragedies large and small. I found myself craving solutions for divestment. One hopeful moment comes at the end, when in 2019, the U.S. government finally held an antitrust hearing. The company has since turned record profits. But MacGillis’ project is to show, not to solve. Since we, as consumers (and hypocrites like me), engage in this problem, it is up to us — along with legislators — to solve it.
McGillis’s story is as emotional as it is analytical — he visits characters and industries affected by Amazon, demonstrating over and over again that the empire is irreparably changing every aspect of American life as we know it. Some case studies stand out ... Amazon has permeated every aspect of our lives and our minds. Our families’ jobs have changed and so has the way we live. Ordinary people go to work, and some of them die on Amazon’s company time. Sometimes the things we see every day become invisible. McGillis asks us to look closer.
If you’re looking for a book that parses the inner workings of Amazon, Fulfillment isn’t it. There’s little here about the company that’s new...MacGillis has set out to do something different. The Amazon depicted in Fulfillment is both a cause and a metaphor. It’s an actual engine behind the regional inequality that has made parts of the United States 'incomprehensible to one another,' he writes, stymieing a sense of national solidarity ... This book, like its subject, can sprawl. Some material feels tangential. A chapter on the rising fortunes of the nation’s capital contains plenty of detail about the history of lobbying — along with the life story of David Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group and his merging of high finance with political influence — but hardly anything that’s specific to Amazon itself ... But in a way, these sprawling connections are part of the point. MacGillis suggests that one-click satisfactions distract us from taking in the bigger picture, whose contours can only be discerned with a patient and immersive approach.
... a probing, panoramic view of the socioeconomic state of the U.S. through the lens of its most ubiquitous company ... Encompassing histories of labor, manufacturing, lobbying, and technology and addressing the country’s growing inequalities in wealth and housing, MacGillis’ guide to this America is heavily detailed and filled with staggering stories and figures ... MacGillis’ sprawling, fascinating account presses pause on the continuously unfurling effects of a monolithic company on not only our consumption, but also our livelihoods, communities, and government.
MacGillis ably catalogs the many ways in which Amazon’s breakneck expansion has left social wreckage in its wake ... MacGillis tells the tale with empathy...Yet the story of Amazon isn’t really the story he wants to tell. Mr. MacGillis’s lens is wide, capturing images of a country in which many people’s living standards are falling and entire regions are left behind...By sharing with us the heart-rending stories of individuals struggling in the face of economic change, as well as examples of Amazon’s alleged abuses, Mr. MacGillis indicts the company for trends that began well before Jeff Bezos’s brainchild was born...The author’s claim that Amazon has 'segmented the country into different sorts of places, each with their assigned rank, income, and purpose,' is a bit far-fetched. I’m no great fan of the Seattle-based giant, whose heavy-handed ways have enabled it to dominate important parts of the U.S. economy. But Mr. MacGillis’s attack is almost enough to make one cry a tear of sympathy for it.
Drawing on interviews with Amazon workers and other sources, the author excels at showing how the Seattle-based company plays communities against one another in seeking sites for new facilities that may promise only modest job growth ... In showing the human costs of all of this, MacGillis at times relies on overlong profiles of or unedifying quotes about Amazon’s corporate casualties. Nonetheless, the book abounds with useful information for anyone weighing the costs and benefits of having an online behemoth come to town ... A sobering portrait of how Amazon is remaking America.
a probing, character-driven report on Amazon’s impact on the American economy and labor practices ... MacGillis gathers copious evidence that Amazon and other tech companies have disadvantaged American workers, yet he resists sermonizing in order to let readers draw their own conclusions. This cogent and wide-ranging study sounds the alarm bells.