The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore
Simon & Schuster (2016), Paperback, 384 pages.
I had previously been aware of the so-called “Current Wars” between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse from reading about the development of the electric chair, but now this superb fictionalized account of the battle to power the world has made me realise that was merely one front in a truly epic legal struggle. The story revolves around Paul Cravath, a lawyer fresh out of college, who is hired by Westinghouse to defend an avalanche of lawsuits from Edison over infringments on Edison’s lightbulb patent. Edison’s stated intention, in a mesmerizing opening scene where he demonstrates his power to Cravath, is to bankrupt Westinghouse and force him out of business. Cravath takes on the challenge and is forced to come up with truly novel legal strategies to thwart Edison. Meanwhile Westinghouse is pinning his hopes on the charmingly eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla to invent a lightbulb that will not infringe the patent. However Tesla is simply not amenable to any form of control, and it takes the combined efforts of Cravath and Agnes Huntington, a young singer with a mysterious past, who becomes Cravath’s love interest as well as Tesla’s protector, to keep him safe and productive. It won’t be giving anything away to say Cravath is eventually successful, and Westinghouse the ultimate winner of the Current Wars, but the process of getting there is fascinating and scintillating. The book fairly crackles along, there are no blacks or whites, everyone has their own motives, some noble, some less so. Giving it added spice is the knowledge that all these events actually happened, with some creative licence where needed. This is a terrific piece of writing, it grabs the reader and never lets go, in Moore’s sure hand even tedious legal manoeuvering becomes exciting and suspenseful. The book is ably finished off with an fascinating epilogue where Moore describes where he has used creative licence, what really happened during those events, and the future lives of each of the protagonists. First-class piece of writing, I cannot wait for more from this author.