Is there a way to tell what the top bid amount is for a keyword or key phrase in Google AdWords without bidding on it? For example: What is the current cost per click for … "Computer Peripherals"? (example only)

First, it's important to understand that "it doesn't matter what other people are bidding." Instead, your focus must be on your business' goals, and you must carefully monitor and evaluate the results of your advertising. Maybe someone else is paying $5 per click, but if you can't make money at that rate, then it doesn't matter — you just can't bid to be in the #1 position for that keyword, because your goal is to earn a profit.

Second, it's really important to understand that the "top bid" on AdWords isn't necessary a higher per-click rate.

Assume that there are 3 advertisers bidding for the keyword "widget."

[A] AllWidgets.com might bid $0.50 per click, and their ad might draw a 1.0% clickthrough rate.

[B] BestWidgets.com might bid $0.40 per click, and their ad might draw a 1.6% clickthrough rate.

[C] CarlsWidgets.com might bid $0.30 per click, and his ads might draw a 2% clickthrough rate.

Google doesn't automatically put ad A in the first position. Instead, it computes how much money it is likely to earn from each ad in each position, and posts the most profitable ad first.

In the example above, ad B is actually the highest-paying ad, because for every 1,000 adviews, Google would collect $6.40 ($0.40 x .016 x 1,000), while ad C would be the second-best-paying ad (for every 1,000 adviews, Google would collect $6.00: $0.30 x .02 x 1,000).

Although Advertiser "A" is bidding the highest rate per click, that ad will probably be shown in 3rd position because it only generates $5 per 1,000 visitors.

AdWords is a very complex system, with lots of "options" (matching options, position preference, negative keywords, site exclusion, time-of-day management, etc.).