The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian is one of the original texts for the modern homebrewer. It was first published in 1984, five years after brewing beer at home became exempt from taxation and was effectively legalized in the United States. For many years it was the only widely distributed source of homebrewing information in the US, and it's often credited with being an original source of inspiration for people who went on to be professional brewers. While there are a few sections where the book is beginning to show its age, the majority of it still shines through as fun and accessible information for the new homebrewer.
Starting off with a short history and a quick intro to extract brewing, the narrative tone is clear from the beginning. Initially, almost every page has a picture, ranging from goofy hand-drawn cartoons to photographs of a brew-day. The casual character of the writing continues through the intermediate and advanced sections of the book and even keeps you engaged in step-by-step instructions of different techniques. With only as much science and math as necessary, and more humor and anecdotes than you would expect, you could probably read the book cover-to-cover without even stopping to brew your first batch.
The brewing information is accurate, easy to understand, and organized well. The majority of the book focuses on what Papazian refers to as intermediate brewing, which is essentially brewing with extract and steeping grains. He provides descriptions of a wide range of ingredients and then the basic techniques of brewing. There are even in-depth descriptions of exotic ingredients for the adventurous homebrewer, such as maple syrup, pumpkin, and Kaffir lime leaves.
Some of Papazian's advice falls into a grey area that I don't personally agree with. For example, the section on sanitation suggests that bleach is an acceptable sanitizer for homebrewing equipment. While it's true that bleach will work, it has the potential of leaving flavor or aromas behind that you really don't want in your beer. There is also a section where Papazian says, "Avoid using your mouth to start your syphon. If you must, gargle with brandy or 150-proof rum". I'm not sure that gargling with 150-proof rum is really an effective way of sterilizing your mouth. I tried this method one time, and I couldn't taste anything for two days. It's pretty clear that this section was written before the auto-syphon racking cane was widely available in homebrewing stores.
There is enough variety in the recipes to keep you busy for a very long time. One of my first brews was Papazian's Elbro Nerkte Brown Ale, which was easy to make and produced an excellent beer in a short time. One note: you'll want to avoid the recipes which recommend pre-hopped extract kits. The instructions for Naked Sunday Brown Ale, for example, includes the use of John Bull Brown Ale Hopped Malt Extract. It's possible this might have been a common ingredient when the book was written (I've actually never seen it at a homebrew store), but there are so many grain, extract and hop varieties available now that using a pre-hopped extract is unnecessary.
The later sections of the book cover what I consider an introduction to advanced brewing. Papazian describes the basic concepts and techniques of working with all-grain recipes, but never really develops the theory in detail. Providing just enough information to pique your interest, this section seems to be included in an effort to make the book a complete reference. Homebrewers who are really interested in advanced theory and techniques will find better references elsewhere.
The casual, narrative tone of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing makes it fun and easy to read. It encourages experimentation with every recipe, and provides the tools for success with your extract homebrews. It's a must-read for anyone looking to start brewing their own beer.