Friday, January 11, 2019

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

One of the great things about book clubs is that you read books that, maybe, you wouldn't have otherwise chosen to read. I wasn't quite sure how The Last Days of Night was going to be when I first looked at it. But, again, what a great read. 

It begins in 1888, the time that electricity was first becoming commercialized. It chronicles the fight between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse as they struggled to gain the upper hand in the production and selling of the commodity and the accoutrements that went with it. This story is told through the eyes of the young lawyer, Paul Cravath, who is hired by Westinghouse to fight for his patents. The 312 lawsuits were filed because Edison invented a light bulb and received a patent for it. Westinghouse followed with a better bulb, and filed for a patent. However, Edison contended that Westinghouse's bulb violated the patents that he had filed. Edison demanded one billion dollars in damages and Cravath needed to prove that Westinghouse's bulb was better and different and didn't infringe on the patents that Edison held. 

Enter Nikola Tesla, a genius, who was determined to make his own statement with AC electricity and its superiority for wide range use in electrifying the country.  What results is a novel of intrigue, high powered machinations, criminal activity, and a bit of romance. The characters are real but fictionalized in the daily comings and goings. Moore includes at the conclusion of the book a detailed listing of what is real and what isn't. 

 Cravath meets and becomes infatuated with the Metropolitan Opera singer, Agnes Huntington. He co-opts her to aid him in protecting Tesla whose life, he fears, may be in danger. Another historical figure who is prominently featured in the novel is J.P. Morgan who shows what the power of money can do. 

The novel is beautifully written and fascinating with all the geniuses springing to life within the fabric of the individual personalities. Moore describes Tesla as the visionary, interested in dreaming up inventions; Edison as the showman, interested in the performance; Westinghouse, the produce who wanted inventions crafted and produced to be the best. As Moore delves into the personality of the men, the reader is enlightened to see how they lived and worked.  The inventiveness and creativity of the mind brings it home that we need to foster intellectual curiosity. 


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