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Last Days of Night, Graham Moore, Random House, 2016, 357 pp
Summary from Goodreads: A thrilling novel based on actual events, about the nature of genius, the cost of ambition, and the battle to electrify America—New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?
I read this excellent historical fiction because I have a bit of an obsession with Nikola Tesla. Luckily one of my reading groups picked it, meaning I read it sooner rather than later.
It is 1888 and Thomas Edison has engaged in a huge legal battle with George Westinghouse over who invented the light bulb. Electric light is just beginning to replace gas light and there is money to be made. Enter Nikola Tesla with his discoveries about alternating current, thickening the plot.
The battle is told through the eyes of Paul Cravath, just graduated from Columbia Law School and in his first year of practise as a junior partner at a small legal office. When George Westinghouse hires him to conduct a counter suit against Edison, Paul anticipates his career getting off to a great start.
Brilliant story telling puts this untested lawyer smack in the middle of an untested legal issue. Everyone involved makes mistakes but Paul's are the most interesting since we already know how it turned out. (Well, at least I thought I did though I learned much more about the infamous rivalry.) Paul's unceasingly hard work and perpetual setbacks power the plot. Through most of the book I was as stressed out as Paul was, wondering if he would fail epically or win the day for Westinghouse. In the end, he did neither.
Reading about the intersection of science, business, and law that made the book a thriller, I was amazed both at the violence of the times and by how much the late 1800s set the stage for the oligarchy we live in today. J P Morgan gets involved as the financier. Even banking plays a role.
My favorite characters though were Tesla with his almost autistic personality and Agnes Huntington, Paul's love interest, a woman as intriguing as Lilliet Berne in The Queen of the Night.
Graham Moore is the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game. I predict he will go far.
(Last Days of Night is currently available in hardcover on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)