First published in 2016
My rating: 4 out of 5
The Short Of It:
I thoroughly enjoyed this fictionalized account of the battle to power America in the late 19th century!
The Long Of It:
In school, we're taught that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, the Wright brothers invented the airplane. But the reality wasn't so straightforward and tidy, and Moore's novel about the current wars -- the battle to power America's homes with this newfangled thing called electricity -- reminds readers of the delightful and fascinating stories behind the brilliant creations we take for granted a century later.
"The Last Days of Night" centers on the rivalry between scientific and business geniuses Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, the dispute over who was first to create the light bulb, and the fight over alternating and direct current -- the winner of which will be the one electrifying cities across America.
Moore made a very smart decision in choosing his protagonist in all this -- not Edison or Westinghouse or someone who worked in their labs or even Nikola Tesla, arguably the star of the novel -- but Paul Cravath, an earnest and bright young lawyer fresh out of Columbia Law School who is hired on by Westinghouse for representation in the 312 patent suits Edison has brought. Paul gives readers an outsider's glimpse into this chaotic, exciting, tense time in the Age of Invention. And since Paul knows nothing of science, the mechanics of the issues at hand -- the light bulb, currents -- are explained to him -- and readers -- in easy-to-grasp layman's terms without making us feel talked-down-to.
One of Moore's talents as a writer is his ability to make history feel exciting and fresh -- that's why he won an Oscar for his screenplay of "The Imitation Game." Though his book is meticulously researched, Moore has taken out all the academic drudgery and given readers a based-in-fact historical fiction novel full of intrigue, tense moments, a tinge of romance -- and plenty of facts cleverly disguised as thrilling fiction. I also loved the colorful characters Moore rendered, and all the major ones are crafted as much from real life as possible. Readers are sure to fall in love with eccentric mad-scientist Nikola Tesla and beguiling singer/socialite Agnes Huntington, whose pure hearts and clever minds make up for the underhandedness, manipulation and sniping of Edison and Westinghouse. In addition to the well-drawn characters, I enjoyed the bits of 19th century atmosphere Moore weaved into the story.
There were a few small things that irked me about the book; for instance, I could've done with a few less quotes from inventors and scientists to head off each of the many (over 70) short chapters, which got old fast -- though I couldn't seem to keep myself from reading them. But overall, I was quite pleased with my first Graham Moore novel and I will definitely continue to seek out his work! (P.S. Graham Moore is writing a screenplay for the movie version of "The Last Days of Night," which is set to star Eddie Redmayne as lawyer Paul Cravath. I look forward to seeing this story on the big screen!)