This is, admittedly, not the sort of book that you would normally read from cover to cover, but having done just that I can attest that it offers pretty useful overview of British history. It was published about 15 years ago, pre 9/11 and is therefore hopelessly out of date when discussing anything relating to much more modern history, but is more illuminating on any preceding centuries.
There were two things in particular which I enjoyed about this book. The first was the way it was structured. Rather than dealing with historical events chronologically, the book is divided into several chapters, each of which focuses on a different facet of history. Events are then discussed chronologically within those chapters. So, for example, there are chapters on ‘Ordinary Lives’, ‘Industry and Leisure’ and, my favourite ‘Culture, Arts and Leisure’. Having said that I enjoyed this aspect, however, it now occurs to me that this could make it slightly difficult to use it as a reference book.
The second thing I liked about the way this was written is that each double-page spread, which focuses on a particular period, features a quotation from a writer from that period, where possible. For example, a section on Victorian Britain features a quotation from Queen Victoria. For obvious reasons, this book does not offer the most in-depth historical analysis, but this little illumination from primary sources, allowing some of the story to be told by those who experienced it, adds a nice note.