The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

Historical Era: Gilded Age (1888-1890)

Historical Rating: History Rich – heavily based on the real lawsuit between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse as seen through the eyes of Mr. Westinghouse’s actual lawyer, Paul Cravath.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Book Jacket Summary: “New York, 1888. The miracle of electric light is in its infancy. Thomas Edison has won the race to the patent office and is suing his only remaining rival, George Westinghouse, for the unheard-of sum of one billion dollars. To defend himself, Westinghouse makes a surprising choice in his attorney: He hires a young, untested twenty-six year old fresh out of Columbia Law School named Paul Cravath. 

The task facing Cravath is daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal, including the backing of J.P. Morgan himself. Yet Cravath shares with his famous opponent a compulsion to win at all costs. 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 no one is quite what they seem.”

HFA Review: Graham Moore is an Oscar winning writer for the movie The Imitation Game, based on the life of Alan Turing (based on the biography by Andrew Hodges) and the major role Turing played in breaking Enigma (the German coding machine for all their wireless communications during WWII). With this book, The Last Days of Night, Mr. Moore has hit another one out of the park. The writing style is alluring and smooth, as enjoyable as a fine bottle of wine after a long day. The shorter chapters break the story into potent and action/emotion packed scenes, much like a movie, and provides easy places to stop for the night (that is if you can actually put the book down).

Paul Cravath’s character jumps to life as we quickly learn what a mess he is in – fresh faced lawyer acting as head counsel for George Westinghouse in the trial of the century over the patent of the light bulb. But he’s more than that; Paul Cravath is man in love with a woman he can’t have, going against a legend who will lie, cheat, or buy his way around the truth with gusto, dealing with often unstable or unreliable men for the evidence/support he needs to win, all while worrying about what will become of him and his career whether he wins or loses (but most certainly if he loses). Using all the information that Mr. Moore could get his hands on about the real Paul Cravath, the author paints the complexities of this person/character so vividly the reader is immediately drawn into Cravath’s plight, wanting Paul to win and beat the Goliath that is Thomas Edison. A win that would provide New York City and the rest of the country safer, cheaper, and more easily accessed electricity. A commodity that is already changing people’s lives for the better and is clearly the path for the future, except sadly the future is being tied up in the legal system thanks to greed and ego.

Along the way, as Paul works tirelessly to solve what seems an impossible puzzle, he comes in contact with the inventor genius, Nikola Tesla, and the beautiful opera singer and socialite, Agnes Huntington. Agnes hires him to solve a dispute with a former manager, but quickly becomes entangled in the Edison case to the point that her involvement becomes essential to the success. Despite the different backgrounds, it’s not surprising that sparks start to fly between Agnes and Paul. Making matters all the more complicated is Nikola Tesla who holds a huge piece of the puzzle needed to defeat Edison. But his eccentric ways and mental instabilities create roadblocks that may not be surmountable in time to win the case.  The final bit of icing on this cake is the fact both Agnes and Nikola are real and the larger pieces of their involvement in this story are true.

This book is rated “History Rich,” because it jams in as much history as possible. Though, creative liberties are taken (as spelled out at the end of the book), this fine-tuned legal thriller will keep the pages turning and you wanting to know will Paul win? Will he get the girl? Will the country have access to power that will dramatically improve people’s lives? Part of this you can easily answer just by the fact you are most likely reading this on some form of computer and very likely sitting near an A/C power source …but the how and why is what makes this story so appealing and fun to read.

Historical Content: “Nothing you’ve read here should be understood as verifiable fact. However, the bulk of the events depicted in this book did happen and every major character did exist.” So begins the author’s notes at the end of the book. As in many historical fiction books, the author writes about the real history depicted in the book and to what extent it was left intact or where liberties were taken. Mr. Moore took his notes a step further by adding to his historical summary a break down, by chapter, explaining which events really happened, who the real people were, and how the events were altered or changed and to what extent for his interpretation of the story. As I read along, I would want to cheat and read the notes first to see what was going to happen, but I never looked ahead. At the same time, I looked forward to finishing a chapter listed in the back (not all chapters have an entry) to see if I could guess what was true to life and what had been changed or added. This element, for me, added more depth and suspense to the story since so much of what is written about is real (or quite close). I hope more authors use this set up in their notes, because by the end I not only enjoyed a beautifully written book but actually learned true history in the process. Win-win.

Publisher: Random House, 2016

Pages: 366 (including Author’s Notes)

This book can be purchased through Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as other retailers.

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