Monday, December 12, 2016

The Last Days of Night

by Graham Moore
366 pgs

Graham Moore's second book The Last Days of Night is a fantastic example of how fascinating and entertaining historical fiction can be. The story begins in 1888. The use of electricity is relatively new, and in the opening scene, Paul Cravath, a young attorney, witnesses a Western Union man being electrocuted while he tries to repair a live wire above Broadway. Blue flames shoot from his mouth, and his skin sloughs off his bones.

Later that same day, Paul meets Thomas Edison, and soon finds himself at the crux of one of the most critical and far-reaching legal battles in the history of the world. The battle over US patent #223868--the electric lamp. Eight years earlier, Edison had been granted the patent, but George Westinghouse, an equally important, if not prolific inventor, believed he had made a better one and wanted to be able to sell it. Edison sued Westinghouse for violating his patent and demanded $1 billion.

If Edison is victorious, his light bulbs, which run on direct current, would be the only ones sold, and the nation's power grid would expand across the country offering only direct current. Westinghouse, on the other hand, enlists the help of another inventor, Nikola Tesla, to find a way to use alternating current, which is safer and can be transmitted over much greater distances. The battle is over the light bulb, but the war is over who will have control of the nation's growing demand for power. The winner will quickly become one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the country.

If you're looking for an absolutely accurate telling of the events around the "War of the Currents," as it became known, I wouldn't recommend the book. Moore takes many liberties with the time frame of events, and much of the backstory for key characters is based on his own suppositions. It is, after all, historical fiction. But if you're interested in learning more about how this key time in our nation's progress, and do so while reading a highly-entertaining story, I can't recommend this one enough. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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