- The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore (Random House), 2016; Random House Audio, Johnathan McClain narrator
- In 40 words or less: The US was on the cusp of electrification in 1988. Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse were battling it out to see whose company and which technology would change the nation. Moore makes history read like a twisted fairy tale.
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Locale: US
- Time: 1888
- This is an ideal audiobook. The story is narrated by Westinghouse’s lawyer, Paul Cravath, who later achieved fame as the designer of the modern law firm. A key figure in the book is Nikola Tesla, whose genius was matched by his idiosyncratic and accented English. McClain’s reading really does the various characters justice.
Thomas Edison is lauded as a genius to be emulated in creativity and business. In truth, he was not a very nice man at all. Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night is truthful in its telling of one of the most expensive market battles and patent lawsuits in U.S. history – worth a billion dollars in 1888. The fight between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison was two-pronged: whether AC (Westinghouse) or DC (Edison) current would be the standard for wiring and electrifying the country; and who owns the rights to the design and sale of the light bulb.
Moore has chosen Paul Cravath, a young and inexperienced lawyer hired by Westinghouse to handle the suit, as the narrator of the tale. Cravath has a chip on his shoulder. He is disaffected from his family and is not as well connected as his fellow law classmates. Barely out of school, he is caught up in high stakes on-the-job training on the front page of America’s newspapers. Fighting for market share was a very dirty business with bribery, physical violence, even kidnapping part of the game. Cravath later made an indelible mark in legal circles by creating the modern American model of progression within legal firms.
A third major scientific player in this future of America’s homes and businesses was Nikola Tesla, brilliant and only interested in the purity of the idea. Tesla’s knowledge was part of a continuing tug-of-war between Edison and Westinghouse.
There was plenty of real life drama to go around in Moore’s telling of the story. He enriched Cravath’s role, and the human intrigue, by embellishing the details surrounding Cravath’s wife, a beautiful singer named Agnes, who seemingly came out of nowhere into the heights of society.
This book has it all – genius, intrigue, romance, blackmail and corporate greed. Many additional luminaries of the period appear. After all, they traveled in the same business and social circles. There is more than enough American industrial history to satisfy a history buff, details about the taming of electricity for the scientist, and an awkward courtship to entertain a romantic.
Were that not enough, The Last Days of Night will be coming to the screen this winter starring Eddie Redmayne as Paul Cravath.