I've linked to Amazon Books where rational, but you may prefer to buy from a local bookstore. Many of my best books are out of print anyway. Some may be found in second hand stores that carry a reasonable academic and history collection. Quite a few of mine come from remainder catalogues such as Barnes and Noble, or ER Hamilton. A good one in Canada is Hampstead House.
I value a lot of original sources -- diaries etc -- and illustrations of the period. I stopped to wonder one day why, when I do dig into meaty texts, so many of my treasured books are very visual. I decided that my creativity is very visual. I have to be able to look into the past, and I need all the help I can get!
This is nowhere close to all the books I use, but I'm a heavy user of libraries, especially for straight text sources, and I can't remember every book I've used over the years. When I come across good new ones, I'll try to mention them here. Patronize your library, and remember at election time that libraries need generous taxes to do their job.
Don't forget that the key to good research is bibliographies. Find one book that touches on your subject, and it should have references you can chase.
Often as writers we seek out books on particular periods or subjects. However, you never know what you need to know, so general books are a great way of filling our information well.
Tannahill, Reay, FOOD IN HISTORY:0517884046, Pub. by Crown Tannahill, Reay, SEX IN HISTORY:* 0812885406.
Two interesting books of very general scope.
Cunnington, E W, A HISTORY OF UNDERCLOTHES:0485271242, Pub. by Dover
As you'd expect, a good overview of the underview.
Stone, Lawrence, FAMILY, SEX, AND MARRIAGE IN ENGLAND 1500-1800:0061319791, THE ROAD TO DIVORCE, England 1530-1987:0192853074
Two excellent books for anyone who wants to understand the marital rituals so crucial to most romance novels.
MINIATURE ROOMS The Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago:0896594084, Pub. by Abbeville Press. This is currently out of stock at Amazon, but they seem to expect to get more someday.
I visited these miniature rooms when I was in Chicago and fell in love. They are a marvelous illusion, making you feel you really are looking into these rooms from the past. I bought the book just out of nostalgia, but find it a wonderful visual resource when I want to get into the mood of a period I open it to one of the high-quality color photographs -- English Dining Room of the Georgian Period2 1770-1790, for example -- and it helps suck me in.
DICTIONARY OF HISTORICAL SLANG, by Eric Partridge.
Mine is the Penguin abridged version 014051046X Amazon lists it as hard to find. Though this book won't give you just the right word, if you think of something you can look it up to see if it's in period.
LOST COUNTRY LIFE by Dorothy Hartley. Pantheon.
0394510364 Hard to find
This is a gem of a book. Subtitled "How English country folk lived, worked, threshed, thatched, rolled fleece, milled corn, brewed mead..." and that pretty well says it. Month by month, country ways are explained, often going back to medieval days, and it is full of details. I never knew, for example, that there were so many uses for a pig's bladder!
Hagen, Ann A HANDBOOK OF ANGLO-SAXON FOOD Processing and Consumption:0951620983, Pub. by Anglo-Saxon Books.
Hagen, Ann A SECOND HANDBOOK OF ANGLO-SAXON FOOD AND DRINK:1898281122, Production and distribution. Pub. by Anglo-Saxon Books
Griffith, Bill AN INTRODUCTION TO EARLY ENGLISH LAW:1898281149, Pub. by Anglo-Saxon Books
An interesting look into the laws of the Anglo-Saxon period, but not of general interest.
Labarge, Margaret Wade, A MEDIEVAL MICELLANY:0886292905*
Margaret Wade Labarge's special area of interest is domestic life, especially the lives of women. Her period is usually the 13th century, which, is late for me, but her insights are still invaluable.
Labarge, Margaret Wade, WOMEN IN MEDIEVAL LIFE:Hamish Hamilton 1241118093 or 0807056278
Gies, Frances and Joseph,
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY IN THE MIDDLE AGES:0060914688. Harper and Row
LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL CITY:0060908807
LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL VILLAGE:0060920467
LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL CASTLE:006090674x
Though they tend to focus on the 13th century, and thus are quite a few generations removed from my characters, all the Gies books are excellent and very readable.
Plumb, J H, THE FIRST FOUR GEORGES, Fontana
An older book, but a solid and very readable introduction to kings George I, II, III, IV (the Regent) and their periods. Amazon lists this as hard to find, but the paperback is often available in second hand stores.
Laver, James, THE AGE OF ILLUSION, Manners and Morals 1750-1848 Weidenfeld and Nicolson 0679502963
An excellent overview of the social world. My copy is hardcover and probably hard to find, which is how Amazon lists it.
Porter, Roy, ENGLISH SOCIETY IN THE 18TH CENTURY:0140138196, Penguin,
Part of the Penguin Social History of Britain, and very useful.
Margetson, Stella, LEISURE AND PLEASURE IN THE 18TH CENTURY
Out of print, but Generally useful.
Smith, Eliza, THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE. Facsimile edition by Studio Editions. Not listed at Amazon. Check remainder catalogues and discount houses.
Written in 1758, this is an excellent source for recipes, both for food and medicines, and overall the book gives a sense of the period.
Turbeville, A S, ENGLISH MEN AND MANNERS IN THE 18TH CENTURY, Galaxy. Not listed at Amazon. An older book often found second hand. Drawing especially on the lives of significant men, this books reveals a great deal about the period as a whole.
EIGHTEENTH CENTURY CLOTHING AT WILLIAMSBURG:0879351098, by Linda Baumgarten, Colonial Williamsburg.
A lovely book with plenty of color photographs of garments in the Williamsburg collection, including the clothes of simple folk and children, underwear, shoes, and accessories. At only $10.95, it's also one of the best values here.
Rush, Richard, A RESIDENCE AT THE COURT OF LONDON, Century Hutchinson, 0712617809 Not listed at Amazon.
Richard Rush arrived in England in 1818 as American Minister. Besides his diplomatic business, he was a keen-eyed and fascinated observer of British high society.
MRS. HURST DANCING & OTHER SCENES FROM REGENCY LIFE:0575030356, 1812-1823
They record it as out of stock, which might mean it will become available. This is a collection of amateur watercolor pictures of everyday gentry life by Diana Sperling, annotated by Gordon Mingay. It's a delightful glimpse into life back then.
ACKERMANN'S ILLUSTRATED LONDON, Ed. by Fiona St Aubyn 1-85326-920-4 hard to find
A collection of pictures by Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson of most places of interest in Regency England, with their original descriptions and extra information. Another wonderful visual resource.
PERIOD COSTUME FOR STAGE AND SCREEN Patterns for Women's Dress 1800-1909 by Jean Hunnisett. Only available at Amazon in an expensive hardcover, and probably not useful enough for writers at that price. As indicated, this book is mostly patterns.
1851700013 A look at coach roads using Patterson's Road Maps of 1828 and accompanying line drawings. The author contributes his own descriptions and annecdotes. Unfortunately only the Portsmouth and Bath roads are dealt with in detail.
JANE AUSTEN'S TOWN AND COUNTRY STYLE:0500279004, by Susan Watkins. Rizzoli JANE AUSTEN:IN STYLE appears to be the same book.
Through Jane Austen, giving highlights and general information. It's long out of print, but turns up second hand fairly regularly.
THE BEETON BOOK OF GARDEN MANAGEMENT & THE BEETON BOOK OF HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT. There are various facsimile editions of these classics around and though they are Victoria, if used with sense, they still provide a good basis for a lot of Regency living.
George, M. Dorothy, LONDON LIFE IN THE 18TH CENTURY Penguin, 0140137319 ol
An imerset Parson, 1799-1818 Not listed at Amazon.
I love diaries, especially the diaries of chatty folks who record the little details.
Low, Donald A THIEVES' KITCHEN:0300058705, The Reg
Though the emphasis in this book is on the Victorian country house, there is still plenty of good general background.
Vince, John, THE COUNTRY HOUSE How it worked, John Murrayes it is very brief. Much of the information is Victorian. Definitely interesting, but I'm not sure it's worth the full price ($22.95) given by Amazon.
Millar, J F, COUNTRY DANCES OF COLONIAL AMERICA:0934943281, Thirteen Colonies Press
Though specifically based on North American sources, the social patterns of the time were probably quite similar to those in England, so I find this a useful insight into the dancing of the 18th century. As well as music and instructions for many dances, it contains contemporary pictures, a few patterns for clothing, and the fascinating rules of some assemblies. most of the conten most of the information holds for years before.
EIGHTEENTH CENTURY FRENCH FASHION PLATES:0486243311, pub. by Dover
Another lovely book, though of precise interest onlsays about the principal fashion movements, the structure of clothing, and underwear. Being a Dover book, it's not expensive, and deserves a place on any reference shelf.
THE A-Z OF REGENCY LONDON by the London Topographical tent of detail. I bought my copy at the London Museum. The address given for the London Topographical Society is 13 Alma Square, London, NW8, which is clearly very old. I'll try to find something more recent.
Roberts, Robert, ROBERT'S GUIDE FOR BUTLERS AND OTHER STAFF:155709120X, Applewood Books
Published in 1827, this is a prosy little book but useful to help in understanding a servant's duties.
MacDonald, Which again offers some insights.
Mayhew, Henry, LONDON LABOUR AND THE LONDON POOR Vol 2:0486219356, Volume 3:0486219364 and Volume 4:0140432418.
The full set is best, but the abridged version is still wonderful, and these books are essential for anyone writing books set in Victorian England. Henry Mayhew went about recording in minute detail the lives of the ordinary people of London from the honest laborers, through the desperate unemployed, to the criminal classes.
THE HISTORY OF MYDDLE:0880290811, by Richard Gough, Macdonald Futura.
This is one of the most unusual and fascinating books I own. In 1701, Richard Gough, an elderly man in the village of Myddle, Shropshire, decided to write about the place he knew best, and took as his structure the pews of the church. (In those days, anyone who was even close to anyone had their own family pew.) All the details of each family are recorded, including their previous adventures and scandals. It's clear that life in an English village was anything but dull, and in this steady, detailed recording a vivid picture of a past world emerges, one perhaps different to our preconceptions.