"The only way to do great work is to love what you do" (stolen from a Colin Smith comment)
I'm all in favor of knowing the milieu in which a story is set. It gives an air of verisimilitude that cannot be faked. For those who write outside the modern period, there is a set of books that are invaluable. Each book details daily life in a different period, starting with ancient Greece and going through the 1920s. They do not deal with the public side, so you still need to read history, but they cover what the history books don't. Unfortunately, my volumes are in storage pending a move, so I can't quote the title of the series, but some vigorous Googling might yield results.
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