I see two problems here: first of all, all the described solutions could more or less do what you want. If you knew any of them, that would be exactly the easiest solution. It is rather difficult to say which of them would be easiest when starting from scratch...
The other problem is that the requirements must be specified very precisely. Typography is more than "stuff with fonts". If one program is better than another with "typography" (which might not be the best way to put it, but let's leave it at that), it means that the final result looks or "prints" better - that is, you have more control over the placement of the elements, text and graphics are properly aligned (and tenths of milimeters count here!), justification is both precise and flexible, etc. I have laid out scientific books in Word and did a decent job with it, but any professional could tell that the tool used could be better.
This is important, as my preferred solution i.e. Word mail merge tools, could work well enough for you, but the printed output could be unacceptable for other people involved (this might also be an issue with Access).
Why Word mail merge? Because it is dead simple. You could start with a simple template and a table of elements and build it up to direct Access access (sorry
) and macro-managed scenarios. I will not go into details, I think the help is accessible enough as it is - basically you set up one document with text placeholders and conditional fields and then feed it with another document, database, text file, etc. (By the way, Indesign also has a similar function - data merge http://tinyurl.com/c66x7m
Maybe you should take a look at that first?)
Access seems to be very well suited for this as well. However, as I do not know it thoroughly, it would not be my first choice.
Finally, I would not dismiss xml - this is exactly the stuff was invented for. There are myriad solutions for going from database to xml and from xml to finely printed documents, you don't have to go fully DTD and xsl to do that any more (but you can).