Do these factors – the small-pond effect, anxiety over blowback, our politeness and deference to authority – contribute to our culture of book reviewing? How could they not? They all help push our reviewing into being more positive. And they come piled on top of the aforementioned doping effect, our consumerist culture’s resistance to criticism, and institutional strictures against being snarky. It is not just the entertainment value that consequently drops off (is there a free-standing book review anywhere as consistently dull as Globe Books?), but the level of critical insight. Reviews become abstract, academic, and non-evaluative. Safe.
Have a look. I'm also interested in what he says about the increased pressure of the marketplace, in that reviewers today are often expected to predict and applaud the bestseller, that a popular book is a good book by virtue of the fact that lots of people like it.