Guess I'll do the first!
Travels with Barley: A Journey Through Beer Culture in America
Author, Ken Wells
The gist of the book is the author on an expense account trying to find the "perfect beer joint", as he travels along the Mississippi river. That, in my opinion, is secondary to the real meat of this book. He takes frequent side journeys along the way--visits a hop farm, talks craft beer with Sam Calgione, founder of Dogfish Head brewery, wrangles with yeast rustlers, among other extremely interesting stops.
Highlights for me:
1. During his travels, he visits Anheuser Busch and delves deep into the history of what I consider shady business practices in AB's attempt to eliminate smaller breweries. Anywhere from changing the recipe (and refusing comment afterwards) to hardlining Czech brewery Budvar (original user of Budweiser name) from using the Budvar name in the US, to many other monopolizing tactics. A great chapter and the most eye-opening for me.
2. A talk with "yeast rustlers", specifically a husband-wife home-brewing team devoted to collecting and storing samples of famous brewing yeast strains from around the world. Extremely interesting topic and much easier than you'd think.
3. Craft and Extreme beer: Sam Calgione is one amazing craft brewer. He started brewing in 1995 as a homebrewer much like you and me--but essentially got "bored", and started experimenting. Whoa, did he experiment. Some of his creations certainly tempt the overboard extreme--a beer at 120 IBU's and 21% alcohol--also which is hopped constantly during the 120 minute brew process with a home-made automatic hopper contraption called "sir-hops-alot", or my personal favorite, Pangea. This one is brewed with ingredients from each of the seven continents, Asian rice, Australian ginger, antarctic water, etc. Sounds extremely unique.
Whether or not the author ever finds the "perfect beer joint" (I'll leave this for you to decide) this is a classic journey of beer history, beer people, and beer ideas that turns into an extremely fascinating ride.
CONS: Its very limited on home-brewing--as far as recipes and step-by-step instructions, but it may satisfy the need for a few little known gems.
OVERALL: Great book, especially if you're looking for an entertaining read.