Jonathan Wilson, a PhD candidate in American intellectual history at Syracuse University, writes an interesting piece on The Junto, a group blog on early American history the contributors of which are all graduate students or "green" faculty1 whose speciality is or will be within the sphere of pre/post-Colonial America. "One-Star Amazon Reviews of Pulitzer Winners" is an intriguing post the consequent of which is Wilson's personal examination of all the one-star reviews published at Amazon books for all Pulitzer prizes winners in historical monographs from 1995-2014 (115 total reviews on Amazon).
Conceding his analysis would not qualify as a "scientific experiment," Wilson believes it nonetheless would surely be considered a "reasonably systematic" approach that is "slightly better, perhaps, than relying on anecdotes from acquaintances." The junior historian's purpose was to gauge "common complaints" from the general reading audience presumably in contrast to peer reviews from other scholarly historians.
Consider how we often are titillated by some television reporter asking random people on the street simple historical questions many alarmingly cannot get right (e.g. "What's the name of the first president of the United States?"). Nor do we Bible-believing Christians fare any better many times with questions about our faith (e.g. "Name the four gospels").
For me, the take-away in part at least from Wilson's piece would be: a) Are scholarly historians (or scholars in general for that matter) incapable (or perhaps unwilling) of connecting with the general readership public or are there some simplified linguistic and/or rhetorical practices scholars need to implement if they want to reach broader audiences?; b) Is the general readership public so historically dumbed-down that the onus is upon them to personally initiate some type of remedial practice which will more intellectually equip them to engage writings beyond the proverbial sixth-grade reading level?2
Below is a helpful summary visual produced by Mr. Wilson and is posted here as illustrative of his analysis. To gain full insight into his experience and what the chart below indicates, check out his piece on The Junto:
1'"green" faculty' is my term, "junior faculty" is theirs
2and yes, it could and may be both a) and b)