Understanding the Victorians is a detailed investigation of Victorian culture from a well-referenced academic perspective, incisively written and with an enormous amount to entertain as well as to educate.
Susie Steinbach's primary audience is American, which leads her sometimes to explain things which are obvious to the British -- or perhaps not. In the UK we see the extended reign of Queen Victoria through a particular set of glasses. The reality is often quite different. Steinbach is not trying to prove a point here -- though her book could well be read hand in hand with Inventing the Victorians -- but she works hard to show us a world which is quite different from Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians. Much of our modern life began in the 19th century, including our obsession with shopping, our concern to distinguish the 'deserving poor' from the 'undeserving', which comes up at every General Election, though never in those terms, and our fascination with gruesome crimes.
The text is well supported with apposite and sometimes quite challenging images.
Speaking personally, this book came as something of an enlightenment to me. An awful lot of the things I thought were 'modern' -- products of the 20th century, if not products of the modernist movement -- turn out to have been alive and active as social movements in the Victorian era. I came away recognising that, try as we might to distance ourselves from Victorianism, we are in many ways the product of that age.