Here are two great "coffee table" books on beer I've been enjoying. Both these books would make great conversation starters. They are beautifully illustrated. Just leafing through them leaves me wanting to travel in search of the beers mentioned. Both were written by the late Michael Jackson.
Ultimate Beer is coffee table sized book featuring over 450 different beers. Just about every beer mentioned is illustrated with a picture of the bottle next to a glass of the beer. The photographs are very well done. Even the wide variety of glassware shown is a treat. In many cases the beer is shown in the brewery's own glass. The illustrations show in great detail the color variations of different beers. The author goes through more than 30 different "styles" of beer. For each group he talks about the beers and goes into detail about the tastes and smells. He also include interesting anecdotes about the beers, the brewers, food pairings, and history of many of the featured beers. There is also a section specifically devoted to food and beer, and also a section on cooking with beer. Jackson discusses beers for specific seasons, and even your mood.
Michael Jackson's Great Beer Guide is a smaller format book subtitled "The World's 500 Best Beers". Much of the content overlaps what is in Ultimate Beer. The format of this book is like that of a field guide, with one beer per page, arranged in alphabetical order. The same great photographic layout is used as in the above book. Like Ultimate Beer, this book is a pleasure to simply leaf through and enjoy. My only complaint is that my copy has a number of pages out of order with much of the "B" section inserted into the middle of the "A" section.
I highly recommend both of these books. Leave them out on your coffee table and even your non-beer drinking friends just might want to try some new beers.