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Fulfillment: winning and losing in one-click America by Alec MacGillis 9781914484209

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An award-winning journalist's investigation into Amazon's true impact on inequality.

The market value of has exceeded one trillion dollars. In 2020, its annual revenue increased by over 100 billion dollars. As the company insinuates itself ever further into our lives, Alec MacGillis investigates how it is reshaping society.

With empathy and breadth, he tells the stories of those who've thrived and struggled in this rapidly changing environment, and shows how Amazon has even become a force in Washington, DC.

The result is an intimate account of contemporary capitalism: its drive to innovate, its dark, pitiless magic, and its remaking of our world with every click.

About the Author
Alec MacGillis is a senior reporter for ProPublica and the recipient of the George Polk Award, the Robin Toner prize, and other honours. 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.


'It's a meticulous, devastating indictment of Amazon's effect on individuals and communities. It prompted me to stop shopping at Whole Foods, which was bought by Amazon in 2017.'

-- Curtis Sittenfield * The Guardian *

'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, author of Our Man and the National Book Award-winning The Unwinding

'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 co-author of Let Them Eat Tweets

'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

'Alec MacGillis practises 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

'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, US Senator from Ohio and author of Desk 88

'A rich sociology of the world that Amazon has made ... [MacGillis's] central story is about the way that a business that cuts out economic middlemen and shared spaces of commerce and circulation, from brick-and-mortar Main Streets to shopping malls, inherently contributes to our grim geographic polarisation ... His overall story has a bleak and ineluctable momentum.'

-- Ross Douthat * The New York Times *

'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 ... The result is galloping prosperity for some Americans and unrelenting precarity for others ... 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.'

-- Jennifer Szalai * The New York Times *

'A grounded and expansive examination of the American economic divide ... This is much more than a story of retail. It's about real estate. It's about lobbying, data centres, and the CIA ... It takes a skillful journalist to weave data and anecdotes together so effectively.'

-- Carolyn Kellogg * Los Angeles Times *

'In Alec MacGillis's urgent book, Fulfillment: winning and losing in one-click America, true fulfillment is elusive in Amazon's America. Through interviews, careful investigative reporting, and vignettes from across the country, MacGillis deftly unravels the strong grip Amazon has on the United States ... [Through] deeply humanising portraits of communities impacted by Amazon, MacGillis gives us a picture of contemporary America as mere survival under precarity.'

-- Xiaowei Wang * The New York Times Book Review *

'Alec MacGillis ably catalogs the many ways in which Amazon's breakneck expansion has left social wreckage in its wake ... 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.'

-- Marc Levinson * The Wall Street Journal *

'A ground-level tour of the United States of Amazon ... The individual stories in Fulfillment are chilling ... [This book] is also the story of a political system captivated by the idea that what is good for Amazon is good for America.'

-- James Kwak * The Washington Post *

'MacGillis understands the bargain Amazon offers the public and explores the consequences of that bargain with a sharp, humane eye. He succeeds in telling a story about Amazon from the bottom up - the right way to scrutinize a company that projects a progressive image.'

-- Sarah Jones * New York *

'Alec MacGillis takes the ubiquity of [Amazon] and blows it up into something on the scale of Homer's Odyssey in his new book ... MacGillis'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 ... Sometimes the things we see every day become invisible. MacGillis asks us to look closer.'

-- Amy Pedulla * The Boston Globe *

'Fulfillment is a mind-bogglingly thorough book, a hybrid of urban history, reportage, profile, and research on people and places that have been impacted by [Amazon] ... MacGillis is equally adept in animating the economic picture ... A compendium of tragedies large and small.'

-- Elizabeth Greenwood * San Francisco Chronicle *

'[Fulfillment'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. Fulfillment leaves the reader with the sense the pandemic has closed one chapter on this story, and is about to open another.'

-- Sarah O'Connor * Financial Times *

'In Fulfillment: winning and losing in one-click America, MacGillis argues that Amazon's dramatic expansion is Exhibit A for America's economic unravelling. Armed with stark statistics and moving anecdotes, MacGillis illustrates how the retail giant pushes regional stores out of business. He shows how the company extracts tax incentives from desperate local governments in exchange for poor-paying warehouse jobs ... A damning and powerful assessment.'

-- Daniel Block * Washington Monthly *

'Alec MacGillis's important contribution, in Fulfillment, is to point out that the key divide is between a sliver of the professional-managerial elite in winner-takes-all cities and everyone else. The book is a must-read for those interested in what drives economic populism.'

-- Joan C. Williams * TLS *

'[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 ... he explores what the erosion of power and possibility means for regular people ... 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.'

-- Vauhini Vara * The Atlantic *

'In his excellent new book, Fulfillment, the journalist Alec MacGillis examines American inequality and economic desperation through the lens of Amazon's growth and rapid domination. The company almost seems to personify economic imbalances.'

-- Farhad Manjoo * The New York Times *

'The defining business book of the COVID-19 pandemic ... A powerful and timely work.'

-- Richard Warnica * Toronto Star *

'[C]aptures 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 MacGillis's book makes obvious is that Amazon will not stop squeezing every drop from workers until those workers have more power.'

-- Sarah Leonard * The New Republic *

'Searing ... rigorous research and gut-tightening insights.'

-- Noel Baker * Irish Examiner *

'An economic history of the country, shaped by an intimate introduction to people living and working in Amazon's shadow as their home cities and states transform around them ... [Their] personal stories are sweeping and in-depth ... MacGillis lays out, with detail gathered through freedom of information requests, exactly how Amazon methodically built its presence.'

-- Alina Selyukh * NPR *

'[Amazon] 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 whose embers incinerate the very workers, consumers, and communities that are drawn to this warm, culture-eating glow ... MacGillis asks us to truly process what Amazon's pandemic profitability means for the nation ... The takeaway is quite sobering: "The fates of the company and the nation had diverged entirely."'

-- Patrick McGinty * Pittsburgh Post-Gazette *

'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 *

'[A] probing, panoramic view of the socio-economic state of the US through the lens of its most ubiquitous company ... Encompassing histories of labour, 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.'

* Booklist *

'Calling on a sweeping array of personal vignettes and tracing out lengthy historical through lines, MacGillis chronicles life across Amazonia through the eyes of drivers, pickers, sorters, corrugated-cardboard manufacturers, politicians, lobbyists, activists, artists, and more ... To understand Amazon is to understand trade policy, deindustrialisation, the collapse of unions, the demise of antitrust enforcement, the death of newspapers, campaign finance laws, the history of lobbying, real estate prices, regional inequality, and tax policy. Amazon, of course, is the Everything Store; is it not, too, the Everything Story?'

-- Alexander Sammon * The American Prospect *

'Fulfillment is a reporter's book, told largely through personal stories ... Intertwined inequalities, for MacGillis, are the defining feature of the modern US economy ... And Amazon, as Fulfillment effectively details, is both a key driving force in this story and a malevolent exemplar of its consequences.'

-- Colin Gordon * Jacobin *

'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 ... [full of] sober, clear-eyed analysis and emotionally involving stories.'

-- Ashley Naftule * AV Club *

'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

'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 ... 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.'

* Kirkus Reviews *

'Gets under the skin of America's forgotten communities ... excellent.'

-- James Bloodworth * The Critic *

'[M]illions of people have availed themselves of the ease and ubiquity of Amazon's easy shopping ... 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.'

-- Steve Donoghue * Open Letters Review *

'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.'

-- Alex Press * Bookforum *

'MacGillis' main conclusions are simply but forcefully expresses ... his approach os well-read, well-travelled and distinctly quirky ... MacGillis plainly knows and cares a great deal about his subject.'

-- Mark Thomas * Redland City Bulletin *

'Outstanding ... This book is absolutely essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in the politics of work, the dynamics of corporate power, and late capitalism. It is also a crucial cautionary tale for us in Australia, where the true extent of an Amazon-dominated future has not yet been realised.'

-- Alison Huber * Readings *

'[Alec MacGillis] tells the stories of ordinary people coping with seismic changes that have a neo-Dickensian ring. There's a touch of a latter-day Steinbeck to this snap-shot of the US now, and the rest of the world.'

-- Steven Carroll * The Sydney Morning Herald *

'[M]acGillis outlines the reality of the American dream through stories of ordinary people ... This fascinating, salutary tale is about an America remade by lawmakers who served the highest bidder, not the people who elected them.'

-- Robyn Douglass * SA Weekend *

'[Fulfillment is] a panoptic look at Amazon and the nation engulfed by what the author calls its 'lengthening shadow'. Beyond a mere examination of Amazon's internal politics ... MacGillis's book traces the lineaments of an America weathered by vast regional and economic disparities, increasing political polarisation, and a fracturing national cohesion.'

-- Jack Callil * Australian Book Review *

Book Information
ISBN 9781914484209
Author Alec MacGillis
Format Paperback
Page Count 400
Imprint Scribe Publications
Publisher Scribe Publications
Dimensions(mm) 198mm * 129mm * 24mm


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