What book would you recommend for a beginner hoping to start with extract recipes or from an extract kit?
The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charles Papazian seems to be a perennial favorite that is more colloquially written.
How to Brew: Everything You Need To Know To Brew Beer Right The First Time by John J. Palmer is the cautious beginners guide.
The Complete Handbook of Home Brewing by David Miller is a classic guide
Obviously everyone will have a personal preference, but those three seem to be fairly prolific and well reviewed in the community. If you just want to brew a kit and get started, the Internet and/or the guide that comes with equipment kits will likely suffice.
A great book for recipe design:
Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels
My favorites are:
- How to Brew by John Palmer (http://www.howtobrew.com/)
- Homebrewing Volume 1 by Al Korzonas (http://www.amazon.com/Homebrewing-I-Al-Korzonas/dp/0965521907)
- The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian (old classic)
Any one of the above should be adequate, but having a few different ones for reference is a good thing.
The Palmer one is available online, but I much prefer my paper copy.