I do not care so much for a great fortune as I do for getting ahead of the other fellows. – Thomas Edison
Until I read this book, I had an impression of what it would have been like to see the night lit for the first time. It was terribly romantic. It was surreal, ethereal, and peaceful. (Sort of like this book’s beautiful cover.) There were scientists and engineers of all sorts slapping each other on the back, congratulating themselves on their enormous contribution to mankind. Thomas Edison was one of these scientists, of course, and he was a jolly good fellow. He lead this collaboration of gifted men with the grace, elegance, and credibility only natural born leaders of that period possessed.
It seems I was mistaken.
Graham Moore’s latest novel, The Last Day’s of Night, is the story of the War of Currents. Though it is a work of fiction, the majority of it is historically accurate and all of the characters did exist including Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, George Westinghouse, and Westinghouse’s attorney, Paul Cravath. Paul, a fresh-out-school attorney in is mid-twenties is hired by Westinghouse to defend him in a law suit Thomas Edison has brought forth demanding the outrageous sum of one billion dollars.
Paul is a thoroughly likable young man who quickly finds himself in over his head. He is, however, determined to win at all costs. He is ambitious, driven, and singularly focused. As time goes on he morphs from naive rookie to shrewd, calculating, savvy attorney. But that’s not to say there aren’t a few SNAFUs along the way… (Though I’d never heard of him, he is apparently quite well-known in the legal world. In fact, the firm he eventually started is still in existence and continues to use the Cravath Sytem which has been credited with changing the way lawyers practice and law firm are structured.)
This book is more intriguing that I could have imagined. All of the same components of modern corporate conflicts and greed existed then. And these scientists we’ve come to hold in such high esteem where not exempt from engaging in all manner of unscrupulous behavior in their quest to be the first and best. From patent infringement to character assassination, from corporate espionage to arson, nothing was off limits.
The author tells this story in such an amazingly engaging, page-turning way that I was fully entertained while being educated. That, I think, is the pinnacle of happiness for those of us semi-obsessed with historical fiction.
There is already a movie in the works. Moore has done the adaptation. My expectations are admittedly very high after having seen The Imitation Game which he adapted from the book Alan Turing: The Engima by Andrew Hodges.
Many thanks to Random House for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.