My Review:New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?
The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?
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 everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.
This was well-written if a bit meandering. I didn't love it, necessarily, but it was interesting and, as an attorney, I instantly and wholeheartedly appreciated that this story was approached from the lawyer's perspective. The discussion and story told regarding the law and the pleadings and a bit of the legal minutiae was definitely fascinating to me. But make no mistake, this was also a bit flowery even though it was supposed to be about hard science. Instead, it was really about the personalities of invention -- the visionary (Tesla), the craftsman (Westinghouse) and the salesman (Edison) and how all of these personalities and motivations came together to spark electricity in this country. I appreciated the angle of Westinghouse's attorney, Paul, and that even he saw villainy in his client and in Edison. I can't be sure how entirely accurate this work is in terms of relationships and conversations because it feels highly fictionalized but the electricity discussion and the legal documents make sense and felt authentic. The author of this book has written other historical fiction with success and wrote the screenplay for The Imitation Game (which I loved) so I will definitely be interested to see what topic he tackles next.
Anyone who likes historical fiction and finds the Edison/Tesla/Westinghouse rivalry interesting will certainly love this one. If you don't know much about the rivalry, it will be an education that also entertains! The Last Days of Night came out earlier this month on August 16, 2016, and you can purchase HERE.
Even a true story is fiction, Paul knew. It is the comforting tool we use to organize the chaotic world around us into something comprehensible. It is the cognitive machine that separates the wheat of emotion from the chaff of sensation. The real world is overfull with incidents, brimming over with occurrences. In our stories, we disregard most of them until clear reason and motivation emerge. Every story is an invention, a technological device not unlike the very one that on that morning had seared a man's skin from his bones. A good story could be put to no less dangerous a purpose.