Fulfillment: America in the Shadow of Amazon
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. Eight decades later, the market capitalization of Amazon.com has exceeded $1.5 trillion, while the value of the Ford Motor Company hovers around $30 billion. We have entered the age of one-click America—and as the coronavirus makes Americans more dependent on online shopping, Amazon’s sway will only intensify.
Alec MacGillis’s Fulfillment is not another 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.
In Seattle, high-paid workers in new office towers displace a historic Black neighborhood. In Ohio, cardboard makers supplant auto manufacturers, and in suburban Virginia, homeowners try to protect their town from the environmental impact of a new data center. When a warehouse replaces a fabled steel plant on the outskirts of Baltimore, a new model of work becomes visible. 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 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.
January 18, 2022
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