On my recent trip to Trinity College Dublin, I've spent almost two full days at airports and on airplanes. I did have a loaded Kindle with me, so during that time I had the opportunity to finish The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke which I started reading a few day earlier.
I'm pretty much a fan of his science fiction works and have most of them on my bookshelf in paperback form. Fountains of Paradise however is one novel I haven't yet read. In a somewhat fragmented way it follows the construction of a space elevator and its chief engineer. The space elevator idea actually appears quite often in Clarke's stories (for instance in Songs of the distant Earth, or 3001). I guess that's not surprising, considering the concept is related to the geostationary orbit, something Clarke has professionally worked on. But there it's mostly just a part of the scenery. Here though, the elevator's construction is the focus of the story, as are the philosophical questions and engineering and social challenges it raises.
Main characters in the novel are portrayed in much the same way as I remember from most other Clarke's stories I read. They are always most rational thinkers, very devoted to their profession and fully in control of their minds. Even when they are overcome with emotions or do something that might appear irrational for an external observer, there's always a detached, internally rational view of their behavior. Some may say that this makes them unrealistic, but I think it fits with the general futuristic theme. As a tower to the geostationary orbit might be something that bridge builders of the future might professionally strive for, such rationality can on the other hand be something people might wish to achieve personally.
Talking about towers to the stars, Clarke's vivid descriptions of natural phenomena and feats of fictional engineering are amazing and Fountains of Paradise is no exception in that regard. Some of them literally gave me goosebumps and they definitely show that contrary to the popular opinion, the world seen through the technically correct eyes of an engineer doesn't need to be dull.
Definitely worth a read if you are into this sort of thing.