“Light bulbs. Electricity. It seems likely that ours will be the last generation to ever gaze, wide-eyed, at something truly novel. That our kind will be the last to ever stare in disbelief at a man-made thing that could not possibly exist. We made wonders, boys. I only wonder how many of them are left to make.” Graham Moore, The Last Days of Night
Where are my nerds? Time to listen up, I have a book for you and you’re going to love it.
The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore (who was the screenwriter for the film The Imitation Game) is a historical fiction novel based on actual events and it is probably the most fun you’ll ever have learning about electricity. Maybe I’m not selling this right… you have to trust me though. The story is set in New York in 1888, when the streets are still being lit by gas lamps and electric light is still a very young technology. Our protagonist is Paul Cravath, a very young and inexperienced lawyer hired by George Westinghouse to defend him in a series of lawsuits brought by Thomas Edison over the huge question of who invented the light bulb. The stakes are enormous here, because the victor will have the right to power the country with electric light.
Are you thrilled yet? Damn. Okay, here’s more:
Yep, that guy. The guy who definitely could have benefitted from the recent advancements in SSRI’s but instead is just the literal ‘mad genius’ in our story. Tesla has been fired by Edison (who turns out to be kind of a dick… did we know this in our adoration filled education of him?) so is a perfect person to be swayed to the Westinghouse side and this is a very fun ride. Any time the story focuses on Tesla you know something fantastic is about to happen.
As Westinghouse’s lawyer, Paul Cravath goes from an unknown kid struggling to launch a career into the center of the world of New York society. The details around the parties and insidious gossip filled society are excellent. Paul works hard, not exactly knowing why he’s been chosen for this extraordinary task, at staying ahead of the barely ethical Edison. I’m not saying that Edison is the devil himself, I’m just saying that I was surprised, and that I spent a lot of time Googling him after this book. Paul becomes obsessed with beating Edison, probably more obsessed than even Westinghouse, and things get out of hand quickly.
I love when real people pop up in novels, it delights me for reasons I can’t totally explain… in this story, besides the main three people, we also get a glimpse into J.P. Morgan and Alexander Graham Bell. There is also an adorable love story in the book, as Paul falls helplessly in love with a famous opera singer, Agnes Huntington, who becomes his sidekick in this case. To misquote the greatest movie of all time, The Princess Bride, I will tell you that this book has everything: spies, blackmail, attempted murder, science, invention and discovery in a time of rapid technology growth, and… yes, true love. I absolutely recommend it. I listened to this book through Audible, and the narrator, Johnathan McClain, was among the best I’ve ever heard, so I highly recommend that as well.
Grade – A