A sobering portrait of how Amazon is remaking America.



ProPublica senior reporter MacGillis tallies the hidden costs of Amazon’s influence on the American economy and workforce.

In a report that pulls back the curtain on some of Amazon’s less well-known policies and practices, the author writes that the net worth of CEO Jeff Bezos increased by an astounding $25 billion in just two weeks early in the pandemic. MacGillis casts that wealth as an example of the “winner-take-all economy” that has sprung up in a handful of U.S. regions as tech giants have moved in, often at the expense of local residents or institutions. 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. That happened most notably during its search for a second headquarters—“a grand nationwide reality show, a Bachelor for cities to compete for the affection of a corporation”—before the company gave up on New York and chose the D.C. metro area. Even smaller cities may feel the pressure to offer the company outsized tax exemptions or other concessions. Ohio gave Amazon a $270,000 tax credit to turn a former Chrysler plant in Twinsburg into a sorting facility with only 10 full-time jobs (though with many more part-time holiday workers): “Twinsburg added a seven-year 50 percent property tax exemption that would cost it $600,000, most of which would have gone toward its schools.” In showing the human costs of all of this, MacGillis at times relies on overlong profiles of or unedifying quotes about Amazon’s corporate casualties (“I want people to know he was a great dad”; “It still hasn’t really sunk in that my brother is gone”). Nonetheless, 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.

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-15927-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.



Want to get ahead in business? Consult a dictionary.

By Wharton School professor Berger’s account, much of the art of persuasion lies in the art of choosing the right word. Want to jump ahead of others waiting in line to use a photocopy machine, even if they’re grizzled New Yorkers? Throw a because into the equation (“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”), and you’re likely to get your way. Want someone to do your copying for you? Then change your verbs to nouns: not “Can you help me?” but “Can you be a helper?” As Berger notes, there’s a subtle psychological shift at play when a person becomes not a mere instrument in helping but instead acquires an identity as a helper. It’s the little things, one supposes, and the author offers some interesting strategies that eager readers will want to try out. Instead of alienating a listener with the omniscient should, as in “You should do this,” try could instead: “Well, you could…” induces all concerned “to recognize that there might be other possibilities.” Berger’s counsel that one should use abstractions contradicts his admonition to use concrete language, and it doesn’t help matters to say that each is appropriate to a particular situation, while grammarians will wince at his suggestion that a nerve-calming exercise to “try talking to yourself in the third person (‘You can do it!’)” in fact invokes the second person. Still, there are plenty of useful insights, particularly for students of advertising and public speaking. It’s intriguing to note that appeals to God are less effective in securing a loan than a simple affirmative such as “I pay all bills…on time”), and it’s helpful to keep in mind that “the right words used at the right time can have immense power.”

Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.

Pub Date: March 7, 2023

ISBN: 9780063204935

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper Business

Review Posted Online: today

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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