Fascinating dialogue, It's not often one can get these sorts of insights into what the people who do it think they're doing.
I have to stick up (slightly) for Loraine Petre. I haven't had the displeasure of reading the tome that Mark refers to, but I'm indebted for his history of the 9th Foot, largely because it's about the only one, as far as I can see, and it's a less painful read than the other obviously is. Proof-readers don't seeem to have existed in his time - according to him, the 9th embarked from Cove a couple of weeks before they arrived there...?
I do agree about the umpteenth re-formulation, although presumably it means there's a demand there, which in itself is a good thing, and I imagine people start with those and move on to something more detailed and deeper and more adventurous in terms of "angle" etc, such as Mark's books or Rory Muir's. That's certainly what I'd advise a student to do. It's all about audience, really, in that sense, isn't it? Not too many footnotes or too much speculation for the general reader; the reverse for the scholar. I think that the more one knows and has read about the subject, the more one wants to know about the arcane by-paths, the embedded suppositions, the historiography etc. But that's about layers of (one's) knowledge.
That said, there's a few things that I think are non-negotiable:
*Factual accuracy. No lazily or deliberately repeating hoary inaccuracies. This falls under the heading of "spreading disinformation", and if a book does nothing else, it should at least be free of thsi pernicious fault
*Say something new or at least put it in a new and fresher light. Not just "the mixture as before".
*Not have too obvious an axe to grind
* Be readable, although in my field, at least, there is plenty of stuff which is usually categorised as "dull but worthy" - a lot of stuff written originally as Ph.Ds etc caomes into this category - maybe fascinating new information or analysis, boringly written. (Should it be allowed publication without drastic revision? Probably - but it will find its own level in the marketplace)
The ideal book?
Avoids all the above crimes, while also:
*Is excitingly written from a literary point of view
*Presents new information or analysis which is intrinsically interesting
*Speaks with the author's voice, including idiosyncratically, provided it is not overly partisan.
Mark's and Rory's books obviously fit the guidleines!
Keep up the good work!
PS Howie, have you got the names of those "dirty" books on the era that you mention? That's one field that seems not to have been adequately covered?