Despite the fact that I’m bad at math and my brain is oriented decidedly toward creative pursuits, science is one of my favorite things to read about. I love Turing and Hawking and Tesla. I may not understand their theories, or really comprehend how their inventions work, but I find them fascinating. So, when I saw there was a new book out about the “current war” – the legal battle over the lightbulb between Edison and Westinghouse – I was pretty excited. The fact that the author, Graham Moore, also wrote the script for one of my favorite movies (The Imitation Game) made it even better. And I have to say, The Last Days of Night definitely did not disappoint.
New York, 1888. The miracle of electricity is still in it’s infancy – electric lightbulbs are found only in the homes of the wealthy. But not for much longer. The man who controls lightbulbs, the man who controls electricity, stands to make history and a vast fortune. Which is why Thomas Edison is suing George Westinghouse for control of the empire. Paul Cravath is fresh out of law school, a young partner at his firm, but still untested. He’s had no clients, let alone major clients. Which is why he’s confused and excited when Mr. Westinghouse chooses him to defend the company against Edison, and the three-hundred and twelve lawsuits he’s filed. It’s a billion-dollar case, a literal fortune in the late 19th-century, and it all hinges on a single question: who really invented the lightbulb?
The Last Days of Night is a thrilling novel about one of the events that shaped history. It is creatively told through one of the last familiar characters (unless you went to law school, in which case you’re probably very familiar with him): Paul Cravath. I thought this was a genius way to tell it, because Moore was able to use Cravath to provide a look at each of the scientists/inventors from a mind that was not familiar with the technical terms. I loved reading about Edison and Westinghouse and Tesla, each of whom were genius, but completely crazy in their own way (particularly Tesla – I loved how quirky he is in this book). I thought Paul was a great protagonist, because he was both smart and flawed, which is my favorite kind of protagonist. And I thought the secondary characters, particularly Paul’s father and Agnes Huntington, were intriguing and dimensional, without distracting from the main story. Moore crafted interesting characters who added a degree of humanity to a war that was perhaps the most technical in history.
I also really liked the atmosphere of the book. It very much reflected the American Industrial Revolution, and did a great job balancing the positive progress and the dangers that accompanied it. Moore simplifies much of the science (otherwise this would be a pretty boring book), but I still learned a lot about lightbulbs and current, which I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would. While this book is fictional, a lot of the events are real, or at least as close as possible to the real thing, which is always great in a historical novel.
Overall, I thought this was an excellent book. It brilliantly highlighted an event that quietly changed the world, and managed to be both educational and thrilling. I truly loved it, and am definitely looking forward to the film adaptation (the script of which is being written by Moore, and is already set to star Eddie Redmayne as Paul Cravath)!
The Last Days of Night will be available at booksellers everywhere tomorrow! You can order (or preorder) a copy here.
This book was provided to me by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.