As well as talking to people and researching online I am reading a lot of books as I go through the generations. Here are some of the most useful so far.
Wikipedia has of course been invaluable. I have also made great use of the In Our Time history archive from the BBC Radio 4 programme. And Peter Adamson’s podcasts, History of Philosophy without any gaps, have been a revelation.
General (but mainly 1000 C.E to the present)
Philip’s World History: people, dates and events, 1999 Illustrated timecharts of the key events in world history from 15,000 BCE to the present day
Bernard Grun: The Timetables of History, Touchstone 1991
These two books give the bare bones of events, a skeleton for the rest of the story.
John Julius Norwich: The Popes, A History, Vintage 2011
David Abulafia: The Great Sea, a human history of the Mediterranean, Penguin 2012
14th century – present
Francis Pryor: The Making of the British Landscape, Penguin 2010
Adam Nicholson: Gentry: six hundred years of a peculiarly English class, Harper Collins 2011
Daniel J. Boorstin: The Discoverers: a history of man’s search to know his world and himself, Penguin Books 1986
E. H. Gombrich: The Story of Art, Phaidon Press 1995.
Hunter Davies: Born 1900, Little, Brown 1998
C.A. Bayly: The Birth of the Modern World 1780-1914, Blackwell 2004
Mike Rapport: 1848, year of Revolution, Abacus 2009
Jenny Uglow: The Lunar Men, the friends who made the future 1730-1810, Faber & Faber 2003.
Linda Colley: Britons, forging the nation 1707-1837, Vintage 1992.
Isaac Kramnick: The Portable Enlightenment Reader, Penguin 1995
Voltaire: Letters on England, Kindle edition
Diarmaid MacCulloch: Reformation, Europe’s house divided, Penguin 2004
Leo Hollis: The Phoenix, the men who made modern London, Phoenix 2008
Baruch Spinoza: Ethica, Kindle edition
Desiderius Erasmus: The Praise of Folly, Kindle edition
Sir Thomas More: Utopia, Kindle edition
Sebastian Brant: The Ship of Fools, Kindle edition
The Oxford History of Medieval Europe, edited by George Holmes, 1988
The Medieval World Complete, edited by David Bartlett, Thames & Hudson 2010
Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales. Many editions available. I read a translation into modern English by Neville Coghill
Ian Mortimer: the Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, Vintage Books 2008
Barbara Tuchman: A Distant Mirror, the calamitous 14th century, 1979 (Ballantine – US, Macmillan – UK)
Giovanni Boccaccio: the Decameron, Kindle edition
Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love, many editions available.
Amin Maalouf: The Crusades through arab eyes, Al Saqi Books 1984
Marco Polo/Rustichello: The Travels. Many editions available. I read the Penguin edition, translated by E R. Latham.
Philip Ball: Universe of Stone, Chartres Cathedral and the triumph of the Medieval Mind, Vintage 2009
Jim Al-Khalili: Pathfinders, the golden age of Arabic science, Penguin 2012
Zachary Karabell: People of the book, the forgotten history of islam and the west, John Murray 2007
Jonathan Lyons: The House of Wisdom, how the arabs transformed western civilisation, Bloomsbury 2010
Firas Alkhateeb: Lost Islamic History, reclaiming muslim civilisation from the past, Hurst & Co 2014
Tamim Ansary: Destiny Disrupted, a history of the world through islamic eyes, Public Affairs 2009. Includes a balanced description of the sunni-shia schism.
Majid Fakhry: Islamic Philosophy, a beginner’s guide, Oneworld 1997
4th -8th centuries
Tom Holland: In the Shadow of the Sword, the battle for global empire and the end of the ancient world, Abacus 2012. This book overturned every previous account I had read of the early years of islam. Sensationalist at times but nevertheless highly recommended.
Patricia Crone: The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran, rural revolt and local Zoroastrianism, Cambridge University Press 2012.
The Qur’an. Many English translations available. I read the Oxford University Press edition, translated by Arthur Arberry.
There is not a lot published about this period. The best resource I have found for the Sasanian Empire is http://www.sasanika.org/. For the church of the East there is even less. One not very user-friendly resource is http://www.syriaca.org.
Charles Freeman: A new history of early christianity, Yale University Press 2011.
Peter Heather: Empires and Barbarians, The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe. OUP 2009