Altick, Richard D. Victorian People and Ideas. New York: W.W. Norton, 1973. Especially suitable as background for college students in Victorian literature; chapters on social structure, political and technological change, art, and the intellectual and religious climate.
Bayly Christopher, ed. Atlas of the British Empire. New York: Facts on File, 1989. In addition to maps, illustrations, and photographs, the book explains Britain's role in world affairs from the sixteenth century to the present.
Beeton Isabella. Beeton's Book of Household Management. Published in London in 1861, this is a very complete cookbook with additional chapters on childcare, servants' duties, health, and everyday legal matters. Several facsimiles of the first edition have been published, including one in paperback.
Best Geoffrey. Mid-Victorian Britain 1851-75. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971. With the two books by J.F.C. Harrison (see below), a readable social history; especially good on the environment, work, leisure, and social order.
Cook Chris, and Brendan Keith. British Historical Facts 1830-1900. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975. The most convenient source of authoritative facts and numbers. Although there are very few explanations, the book is fined with population figures; statistics on religion, education, crime, the military, and the Empire; names and terms of elected officials; and summaries of important legislation.
Craik Dinah Mulock. John Halifax, Gentleman. 1856. An extremely popular novel about a boy who rises out of poverty through honesty, initiative, and hard work; still a good story as well as a fine example of self-help ideology.
Cunnington C. Willett, and Phillis Cunnington. Handbook of English Costume in the Nineteenth Century. Philadelphia: Dufour Editions, 1959. Very useful for illustrators or stage costumers; provides a decade-by-decade summary