The Birth of the Modern -- Paul Johnson
One common problem with history is that both teachers and writers can delve down into the details of a particular time and place while leaving the student to correlate the time to the rest of the world. The student is then forced to take a constructivist approach and integrate the newly learned events into their own internalized history of the world. Naturally, the danger is that after several years of such learning, the student may end up with an internalized history that's as solid as Swiss cheese.
Johnson's history of the years around 1815-1830 is remarkable because it puts the World in your hands and you now know what was happening on that globe during those fifteen years regardless of where you point your finger. To augment the impact of the book, I highly recommend reading it with Wikipedia and images.google.com as there are references to works of Art and Machinery that should be seen to be understood in the context of the book.
To top it off, it is so well written as to be non-fiction for the fiction reader. You may find quibbles with the text, but I believe they will vastly outweighed by the sheer usefulness of the content.
-- One astounded Patrick.