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Fulfillment

Fulfillment

Winning and Losing in One-Click America

Alec MacGillis

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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An award-winning journalist investigates Amazon’s impact on the wealth and poverty of towns and cities across the United States.

In 1937, the famed writer and activist Upton Sinclair published a novel bearing the subtitle A Story of Ford-America. He blasted the callousness of a company worth “a billion dollars” that underpaid its workers while forcing them to engage in repetitive and sometimes dangerous assembly line labor. Eighty-three years later, the market capitalization of Amazon.com has exceeded one trillion dollars, while the value of the Ford Motor Company hovers around thirty billion. We have, it seems, entered the age of one-click America—and as the coronavirus makes Americans more dependent on online shopping, its sway will only intensify.

Alec MacGillis’s Fulfillment is not another inside account or exposé of our most conspicuously dominant company. Rather, it is a literary investigation of the America that falls within that company’s growing shadow. As MacGillis shows, Amazon’s sprawling network of delivery hubs, data centers, and corporate campuses epitomizes a land where winner and loser cities and regions are drifting steadily apart, the civic fabric is unraveling, and work has become increasingly rudimentary and isolated.

Ranging across the country, MacGillis tells the stories of those who’ve thrived and struggled to thrive in this rapidly changing environment. In Seattle, high-paid workers in new office towers displace a historic black neighborhood. In suburba… More…

An award-winning journalist investigates Amazon’s impact on the wealth and poverty of towns and cities across the United States.

In 1937, the famed writer and activist Upton Sinclair published a novel bearing the subtitle A Story of Ford-America. He blasted the callousness of a company worth “a billion dollars” that underpaid its workers while forcing them to engage in repetitive and sometimes dangerous assembly line labor. Eighty-three years later, the market capitalization of Amazon.com has exceeded one trillion dollars, while the value of the Ford Motor Company hovers around thirty billion. We have, it seems, entered the age of one-click America—and as the coronavirus makes Americans more dependent on online shopping, its sway will only intensify.

Alec MacGillis’s Fulfillment is not another inside account or exposé of our most conspicuously dominant company. Rather, it is a literary investigation of the America that falls within that company’s growing shadow. As MacGillis shows, Amazon’s sprawling network of delivery hubs, data centers, and corporate campuses epitomizes a land where winner and loser cities and regions are drifting steadily apart, the civic fabric is unraveling, and work has become increasingly rudimentary and isolated.

Ranging across the country, MacGillis tells the stories of those who’ve thrived and struggled to thrive in this rapidly changing environment. In Seattle, high-paid workers in new office towers displace a historic black neighborhood. In suburban Virginia, homeowners try to protect their neighborhood from the environmental impact of a new data center. Meanwhile, in El Paso, small office supply firms seek to weather Amazon’s takeover of government procurement, and in Baltimore a warehouse supplants a fabled steel plant. Fulfillment also shows how Amazon has become a force in Washington, D.C., ushering readers through a revolving door for lobbyists and government contractors and into CEO Jeff Bezos’s lavish Kalorama mansion.

With empathy and breadth, MacGillis demonstrates the hidden human costs of the other inequality—not the growing gap between rich and poor, but the gap between the country’s winning and losing regions. The result is an intimate account of contemporary capitalism: its drive to innovate, its dark, pitiless magic, its remaking of America with every click.

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Introduction

The Basement


Hector Torrez was living in the basement because his wife told him to. He had done nothing wrong, committed no matrimonial transgression. He simply worked at the wrong place.

The irony of it was,...

Praise for Fulfillment

"A probing, character-driven report on Amazon’s impact on the American economy and labor practices . . . This cogent and wide-ranging study sounds the alarm bells." Publishers Weekly

Fulfillment is journalism at its very best: a powerful panoramic account of America’s skyrocketing inequality across people and places. Drawing on both big-picture economics and his own brilliant reporting, Alec MacGillis tells the gripping story of Amazon’s meteoric rise, the economic and political elites who’ve profited from it, and the ordinary citizens who’ve too often borne its costs.” —Jacob Hacker, professor at Yale University and coauthor of Let Them Eat Tweets

“Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote that all work has dignity if it pays an adequate wage. Alec MacGillis explains why some of America’s richest people and largest corporations don’t seem to care. He has an uncanny ability to weave together the stories of those whose fortunes are soaring with the stories of those whose lives are falling into hopelessness.” —Sherrod Brown, U.S. Senator from Ohio and author of Desk 88

“Alec MacGillis is one of the very best reporters in America. By always going his own way, he finds stories and truths that others avoid. Fulfillment paints a devastating picture of Amazon, but it also gives human voices to the larger story of our unequal economy and society. Fulfillment is an essential book in the literature of America’s self-destruction.” —George Packer, staff writer at The… More…

"A probing, character-driven report on Amazon’s impact on the American economy and labor practices . . . This cogent and wide-ranging study sounds the alarm bells." Publishers Weekly

Fulfillment is journalism at its very best: a powerful panoramic account of America’s skyrocketing inequality across people and places. Drawing on both big-picture economics and his own brilliant reporting, Alec MacGillis tells the gripping story of Amazon’s meteoric rise, the economic and political elites who’ve profited from it, and the ordinary citizens who’ve too often borne its costs.” —Jacob Hacker, professor at Yale University and coauthor of Let Them Eat Tweets

“Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote that all work has dignity if it pays an adequate wage. Alec MacGillis explains why some of America’s richest people and largest corporations don’t seem to care. He has an uncanny ability to weave together the stories of those whose fortunes are soaring with the stories of those whose lives are falling into hopelessness.” —Sherrod Brown, U.S. Senator from Ohio and author of Desk 88

“Alec MacGillis is one of the very best reporters in America. By always going his own way, he finds stories and truths that others avoid. Fulfillment paints a devastating picture of Amazon, but it also gives human voices to the larger story of our unequal economy and society. Fulfillment is an essential book in the literature of America’s self-destruction.” —George Packer, staff writer at The Atlantic and author of Our Man and the National Book Award–winning The Unwinding

Fulfillment vividly details the devastating costs of Amazon’s dominance and brutal business practices, showcasing an economy that has concentrated in private hands staggering wealth and power while impoverishing workers, crushing independent business, and supplanting public governance with private might. A critical read.” —Lina Khan, associate professor at Columbia Law School and author of Amazon's Antitrust Paradox

“Anyone who orders from Amazon needs to read these moving and enraging stories of how one person’s life savings, one life’s work, one multigenerational tradition, one small business, one town after another, are demolished by one company’s seemingly unstoppable machine. They are all the more enraging because Alec MacGillis shows so clearly how things could have been different.” —Larissa MacFarquhar, staff writer at The New Yorker and author of Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help

“Alec MacGillis practices journalism with ambition, tenacity, and empathy that will command your awe. Like one of the great nineteenth-century novels, Fulfillment studies a social ill with compelling intimacy and panoramic thoroughness. In the process, Jeff Bezos’s dominance and its costs are made real—and it becomes impossible to one-click again the same.” —Franklin Foer, staff writer at The Atlantic and author of World Without Mind

“For a generation, inequality has been rising relentlessly in the United States—not just inequality of income and wealth, but also inequality of power and geography. In Fulfillment, Alec MacGillis brings this crisis vividly alive by creating a broad tableau of the way one giant company, Amazon, affects the lives of people and places across the country. This book should be read as a call to action against the new economy’s continuing assault on working people, small businesses, and left-behind places.” —Nicholas Lemann, author of Transaction Man

Fulfillment addresses the human impact of current technologies and economic inequality with rare power. People in tech don’t often think about the ramifications of their work; Alec MacGillis reminds us that it has consequences, and that even if there are no clear solutions, we have a moral imperative to consider its effects.” —Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist

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Alec MacGillis

Alec MacGillis is a senior reporter for ProPublica and the recipient of the George Polk Award, the Robin Toner prize, and other honors. He worked previously at The Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, and The New Republic, and his journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and other publications. His ProPublica reporting on Dayton, Ohio was the basis of a PBS Frontline documentary about the city. He is the author of The Cynic, a 2014 biography of Mitch McConnell. He lives in Baltimore.

image of Alec MacGilliso
J. M. Giordano

Read Articles by the Author at Propublica.com

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