The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
Random House, 2016. Hardcover, 368 pages.
I remember hearing about the battle over electricity back in my high school science classes. It came up more than once. Later, when visiting Niagara Falls, it was touched on again thanks to the statue of Nikola Tesla erected on the American side of the falls for his work on harnessing the Falls’ power to generate electricity. The Last Days of Night is the novelization of this battle.
The novel opens in 1888 New York with a most shocking example of electricity, both literally and figuratively, as lawyer Paul Cravath heads to a meeting. Cravath, a newly minted lawyer, represents George Westinghouse and his company. Currently, Westinghouse is involved in a legal battle with Thomas Edison over the manufacture of the light bulb. Whoever wins will hold the rights to power the nation.
As part of this battle, Cravath helps to lure some men Edison angered over to Westinghouse’s side. One of these men was scientist Nikola Tesla. Soon after decamping, Tesla debuts his alternating current (A/C) which is an improvement over Edison’s direct current (D/C) and solves the problem of electricity traveling long distances. This incites a new battle over which current is safer and should power the nation. The battle is no longer just over lightbulbs.
Alongside this battle is the stories of Cravath and Tesla. Cravath enters high society as part of his job as well as pioneers a new legal system for researching cases. He also reaches out to others to help spy on the opposition and build his case, eventually scheming to solve it in a unique way. Tesla, meanwhile, is now caught in the crosshairs of the battle as both Westinghouse and Edison want him either on their side or out of the picture, permanently. Helping both in the opera star Agnes Huntington, who hides a secret of her own.
While I think this novel did a great job showing the legal and technological battles, the author’s note at the end through me for a loop. The events take two years in the book to occur but in real life it was eight. What was left out? What had the surface barely scratched upon? All that said, readers will not be disappointed with the pace or even realize that parts of the story are missing. Since the book does mention a great deal of scientific technology, it is also important to note that the average reader will have no issues with this inclusion as the technology is either very basic or is accompanied by explanations (Cravath is not a scientist so the scientist often have to explain things to him [and thus the reader]).
Lastly, The Last Days of Night was optioned for a movie before its release and that movie will be starring Eddie Redmayne. A release date is not yet set, but expected in 2018.
My review is based on a library copy of the hardcover novel. The paperback was released earlier this summer.
Have you read this novel yet? If so, what did you think? If not, does the topic intrigue you?