Title: The Last Days of Night
Author: Graham Moore
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Setting: Mostly NYC, but also in Pittsburg, and a few other midwest places. 1888.
Source: Net Galley
Release Date: Sept 27, 2016
New York, 1888. The miracle of electric light is in its infancy, and 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?
The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing Paul is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown attorney shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it? In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.
I’ve been on a real historical fiction kick lately. I can’t seem to get enough of these novels and what’s more, I can’t find enough of them!
Moore’s prose is lyrical and inventive. He not only brings these historical characters to life, makes you takes sides, and helps you to better understand them past their notoriety, but he also brings the reader into the setting and era through his descriptive writing. In this novel, we get to know Mr. Westinghouse, Mr. Edison, Mr. Tesla, and Mr. Cravath, all inventors, of a type, in their own right.
Before this novel, I had never even heard of Cravath, but upon doing some research, I learned that he’s responsible for the ways in which law offices work today and they even still call it the “Cravath System”. What’s more surprising, is that through Moore’s writing, I realized that I had no idea who George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla are beyond their contributions to science (and some of those I didn’t know either) and their inventions. Moore weaves a story and presents a dramatic stage for these men and I was enthralled from page one. Honestly.
I think, beyond the story, my favorite part of this book was the author’s notes. Moore gives a chapter by chapter breakdown of where the story diverged from history and where it remained true. As a history buff, I was deeply appreciative of this. Knowing these changes, additions, and embellishments adds to my personal enjoyment of a historical fiction novel. Moore also included his sources with each note so that the reader can find out more for themselves, which I plan on doing. I had no idea that Edison, Westinghouse, Tesla, and J.P. Morgan were such fascinating men beyond what I know of them from the very basic. They are no more simple than the debate of who really invented the light bulb is.