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


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

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 labour. Eighty-three years later, the market capitalisation 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 expose 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 centres, and corporate campuses epitomises a land where winner and loser cities and regions are drifting steadily apart, the civic fabric is unravelling, 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 neighbourhood. In suburban Virginia, homeowners try to protect their neighbourhood from the environmental impact of a new data centre. 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, DC, 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, and its remaking of America with every click.

‘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

‘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 catalogues 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