I'm kinda along the same lines as 'Henry'. NOT to take anything away from a Hardwood Expert, but you have to consider that, well ..., that's their business. To say 'it' in other words, there's some bias. (A Vinyl Expert will try to steer you towards using vinyl whereas a Hardwood Expert would try to steer you towards hardwood. See what I mean???)
1) Durability - That depends on what you want your floor to be durable of/from. Oak is fairly 'hard'. It's the 'finish' that takes the wear-and-tear. 2) 3/4" is the 'standard' for hardwood flooring. HOWEVER, there are other types of flooring, such as laminated or Engineered Flooring that vary in thickness (and price and durability and so on.) 3) Personally, I'd do w/o the beveled edge. (They tend to 'collect' dirt and such.) You'd be surprised what you 'drag' into the house! I clean my foyer hardwood floor every weed. I damp-clean it every 2 weeks. I do not use a vacume cleaner on the floor. I dry mop when I do a quick-cleaning, and I use the Manufacturer-recommended Floor Cleaner when I 'damp' clean the floor (every 2 weeks.) 4) I strongly suggest you look into pre-finished hardwood flooring. The factory definitely does a better job at 'finishing' the floor under 'controlled' conditions. This allows them to put down MORE poly for a better finish AND a longer wear. Consider 'floor runners' where you do a lot of walking and 'mats' where there are entrance ways into/out-of the house. Again, the floor's WORST enemy is sand/concrete grit and grime, among other things. The rubber-backed runners (where the backing is a PERMANENT part of the runner/mat) is what you want. K-Mart and Home Depot and such carry the runners in 5' lengths, along with mats. I don't recommend the 2 piece mats where the backing is SEPARATE from the carpet. The carpet tends to slide off the rubber backing over time, thus, scratching the heCK out of the finish! Mats and Runners will be used by pets because it 'feels better' underfoot, and they won't slide. THey'll figure it out. These 2 'things' lengthen the 'life' of the finish. (You don't need carpeting of any kind along the room perimeters or under furniture for the most part ...) 5) As far as educating yourself in hardwood floors, just go shopping! You'd be surprised at how many different answers you'll get to your ?'s! By the time you talk to your 3rd Retailer, you'll be an expert. The bad news is you'll be a bit confused as to what's the right 'answer' to some of your ?'s / concerns. That's OK. Just use one Retailer's answer against another to see what they say, and vice-versa. Make them earn your understanding. 6) As far as branding goes, that depends on what you want to spend. There are 'household' brands, and there are not-so-popularly-known household brands. Start with the Home Depots and then graduate to the Flooring Retailers (like Floors USA.) Then, if you want exotic woods, there are good ones but they may be out of your price range. (The folks buying those particular brands hire pros to do this type of work. We don't necessarily 'hear' from them on the Forum ...)
After you've educated yourself, come back with any other questions. At that time, I'm sure your ?'s will be more specific. It's been nice talking to ya. My best to ya and hope this helps.