The first cookbook I ever owned was the Joy of Cooking. It had the basic recipes for just about everything I was interested in cooking. I'd come home from shopping and turn to the Joy to see how to cook some vegetable or cut of meat or how to make something I was craving but had never made before like biscuits or macaroni and cheese. In fact, the 1984 edition I have has "the all-purpose cookbook" emblazoned across the front which couldn't have been more accurate.
I grew up in a household that had an earlier edition of the book, and it always seemed quaint and a bit old-fashioned to me. It still does. It certainly has never been where I turned for inspiration. But regardless, I used it for years for things like coffeecake, cranberry relish, roast chicken, candied sweet potatoes and so much more. And I still do.
The thing about the Joy of Cooking is that the format for the recipes is positively the best for anyone learning to cook. You see all the ingredients and the order in which they are used in the recipe at the same time. This may not sound that important, but it's actually crucial. Each step is a technique and glancing at a recipe you can easily determine the difficulty of the recipe based on your own skills. You can see a bunch of recipes here.
The new 75th anniverary edition Joy of Cooking has "4500 recipes for the way we cook now" on the cover. Some people are all up in arms because it has more ethnic "exotic" recipes than before. But the truth is, we have access to many more ingredients now, so the cookbook really functions just the way it always did. It is a cookbook in the truest definition of the word, a book of recipes and cooking directions. It is solid, indispensable and I wouldn't part with my old edition for anything. Do you need the new edition? If you are an accomplished cook and certainly if you have an old edition, then probably not. Athough having worked my way through both books, I found the new version has updated even the techniques found in the older versions. I recently tried the Swedish Meatball recipe and it was great and significantly different from earlier versions. But if you're looking for the right book to give to a new cook, the new version will get them on the right track and keep them cooking for a long time to come.