As for the books of the 1890s to 1914 - don't forget that most of the French, German etc vols were heavily subsidized by their respective armies, and probably had a limited audience, many of them army officers studying for their exams. Which was also part, at least, of Petre's audience, and possibly one of the reasons he was rather dry - textbooks and crammers are not always the most lively reading!
I haven't forgotten. That's what I meant by the audience. If Petre had written his history differently, would it have been acceptable? Are their any examples of these subsidized historians writing differently?
Again, the question is one of good history compared to good reading. Both are important, but separate issues. Petre could fail today as a writer and still be a fine historian, or vise versa. Was Petre's history sound? Were his conclusions well supported? Etc. Etc.
I was reading Geoffrey Wawro's book on the Franco-Austrian War of 1866. Now this guy is a professional, with a position at a war college, and has a program on the history channel. Yet, in the first eight pages of his history, he writes several silly things including this on page 8:
"The first triumph of these new French "shock tactics" was Valmy in 1792, when a rapidly assembled army of French conscripts advancing behind a heavy cannonade put an army of Prussian professional to rout."
Now there are so many things glaringly wrong with this one sentence, you have to wonder what kind of research Wawro did. The writing is just wonderful, the history it relates is for the birds. Yet, it is a widely respected piece of work by a respected historian that made money.