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.
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.