I have flown many times as a passenger and fewer times (and in smaller aircraft) as a pilot. I've got a degree in physics and have read extensively on the science and technology of powered flight. But every time I board a Boeing 747, there's still a part of me that has trouble believing that this nearly 400 metric tonne auditorium can actually fly. I had the same feeling when I attended a cocktail party beneath the Saturn V rocket at Kennedy Space Center last summer. I don't doubt the physics or the demonstrated reality that these giant vehicles can indeed fly. It may be "just engineering" but it's still pretty mind-boggling.
Someday I may say the same sort of thing about the space elevator. Of course no one has built one yet, but the physics and many preliminary engineering details have been worked out. It definitely can work, and I hope to live to board a 20 tonne (or heavier) "climber" that will use laser-beam powered electric motors to pull itself up a 100,000 kilometer long carbon nanotube ribbon into the sky. That would be really cool.
I've read several books about the space elevator, including a very good one by Dr. Bradley Edwards, the main author of two NASA studies that helped to make the concepts of the space elevator more widely known and more practical than the space elevator versions that have appeared in science fiction. Right now I'm reading another one, Liftport: Opening Space to Everyone, and it's also quite good. It's really a series of short pieces by various authors, some of them on the technical features of the space elevator (lifters, power, safety, materials, etc.). The explanations are intended for general readers, and some of them (especially chapter 16 on the counterweight and its role in "holding up" the space elevator ribbon) are especially well done. The other works are science fiction on space elevator themes. These are of widely varying quality, some good and/or historic, e.g., excerpts from Arthur Clarke's Fountains of Paradise, and some really, really bad. Some of them have serious technical errors and there are also a fair number of typographical errors. But all of them help to lend a touch of "you are there" reality to a future world in which space will be just a few-day elevator ride away.