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The Last Days of Night Paperback – 1 July 2017
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*Soon to be a major film starring Eddie Redmayne*
The man who controls electricity will control the very sun in the sky...
It is 1888 and, with gas lamps still flickering in the streets of New York, a young lawyer takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul Cravath's client is George Westinghuose, who is being sued by his wily rival, Thomas Edison, for $1 billion as they compete to power the city by electricity.
In his obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul takes ever greater risks to win at all costs. But soon he will find that everyone in his path is playing their own game.
‘A web of deception and industrial espionage’ Sunday Times
'This is John Grisham meets Edith Wharton, as all the great and good of 19th-century New York slug it out in court' The Times
‘Mesmerizing, clever, and absolutely crackling…a beautifully researched, endlessly entertaining novel that will leave you buzzing’ Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl
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‘Reads like a modern thriller’ ― Saga on The Last Days of Night
‘A must-read’ ― Daily Express on The Last Days of Night
'This is John Grisham meets Edith Wharton, as all the great and good of 19th-century New York slug it out in court' ― The Times on The Last Days of Night
‘One theme, of course, is the exhilaration that arises from connecting science to invention. I found that theme played out, in a manner that was resonant for our own times, in Graham Moore’s historical novel The Last Days of Night' -- Walter Isaacson, author of 'Steve Jobs' and 'Einstein'
About the Author
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster UK (1 July 2017)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1471156680
- ISBN-13 : 978-1471156687
- Dimensions : 13 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 273,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from Australia
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“ Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana. —Bill Gates”
This was sure a surprise! I don’t know what I was expecting, but not something as interesting and entertaining as this wonderful example of ‘historical faction’. Lots of factual information, but nothing dry or boring, as it is when popular authors try to find a subject to ‘teach’ us and then work a story around it the way I find a lot of popular chick lit, in particular.
Authors pick a place for romance—dairy, hospital, Paris—and then spend time trying to pique our interest with lessons about cows or unusual medical conditions, or art history to show us what clever researchers they are. Spare me, please!
Not Graham Moore. This reads like the real deal—well, real in the sense that the main characters are very real people who did sue each other and make deals at the time the United States was just beginning to enjoy the wonders of electric lighting in the late 1880s.
Every chapter is introduced by an interesting quote, sometimes from a current figure, like Bill Gates, above, or Steve Jobs, and sometimes by an historical one, like Karl Popper or Edison himself.
Our main character was a real attorney, Paul Cravath. The author has conjured up his romance and conversations, of course, and done it believably well. Thomas Alva Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla are not only real, but famous, personages, and the author has used a bit of artistic licence in compressing some time lines to make the story run smoothly. But the basic story and J.P. Morgan's involvement is all there in the history books.
We begin with Edison saying he invented the incandescent light and suing George Westinghouse for selling one of his own design. Edison seems to have hundreds of lawsuits going. Westinghouse hires Paul Cravath to defend him, and Paul sifts through everything he can find, looking for a flaw (and necessarily learns a lot about electricity in the bargain).
“Even if Edison was the one who did the inventing, and even if inventing is what occurred, did he actually invent 'the' light bulb—or just 'a' light bulb? Why the definite article? There could be as many varietals of light bulb as roses blooming in the gardens of Central Park.”
The earliest light devices were unsatisfactory—electricity arcing between two sticks (scary!), but as the experiments become more successful, the rivalry grows.
The other main battle is over the comparative price and safety of Direct Current (Edison’s) vs Alternating Current (Westinghouse’s). [You can look up the War of Currents in Wikipedia.] I learned a lot along with Paul, but you don’t have to be a science buff to enjoy this history. There's plenty of 'story' to satisfy. The author explains, for example:
“None of these early iterations were fit for the home—no wife in America would sanction the installation of a lamp that was confusing to use, expensive to repair, and more likely than not to set the drapes on fire.”
The worst part of the war was Edison convincing a state to use an electric chair for the death penalty to prove how dangerous AC was. Horrifyingly disastrous results. All wars are dreadful, and this was war.
In addition to his powers of persuasion and invention, Edison seems to have had a real skill in patenting devices with such clever loose language that his patent could easily be said to cover other people’s inventions. Speaking of broad-reaching phrasing. . .
“They argued that no other company had a legal right to manufacture incandescent bulbs, because incandescent light itself was covered by Edison’s patent.”
So now he claims to own all forms of incandescent light?
And into the mix arrives the quintessential ‘mad scientist’, Nikola Tesla, a brilliant, eccentric Serb who worked with Edison and quit suddenly in anger and disappeared. Paul wants to find him and pump him for information about Edison’s lab. But Edison is hunting for him as well, so the chase is on.
The author has also done a great job imagining Tesla’s speech patterns by jumbling the grammar rather than trying to recreate his heavy accent, which would make for uncomfortable reading.
“It was soon clear that his command of the raw materials of the language—words, short phrases—was deep, and yet his use of its intricacies—grammar, sentence construction—was haphazard. It was as if Tesla tossed up into the air all the words he knew on a given subject, and then walked away before he could see where they landed.”
Tesla explains to Paul, who’s taken him out to dinner, why he can’t eat the meal.
“Well, of course not; please do not mistake me for a crazy. I can only ingest a dinner the cubic volume of which adds to a number divisible by three.”
Later we learn his ‘meals’ are only soda water and saltine crackers.
When giving a lecture to a large group, Tesla’s accent and speech patterns were so jumbled that Paul wasn’t sure he was speaking English.
“ ‘Please pardon my face,’ came Tesla’s high-pitched and thickly accented voice. ‘My pallor is white as pale. My health is in a condition dishabille.
. . . ‘Laboratories are better-fit places for machines than personages,’ continued Tesla. ‘But I am digressed.
. . . My health, I have said. I ask your kind indulgence, and my gratification shall be in your minor approvals.’”
Tesla is found, ill and mad but has flashes of brilliance (and continued to do so for the rest of his life). We watch the unfolding of plans involving Alexander Graham Bell (you know, the telephone man), J.P. Morgan, then America’s richest man (close enough), and other real people.
And Tesla is the man in whose honour the founders of Tesla Motors named their company, (although I read that Elon Musk, the CEO, is an Edison fan).
Plus there’s a delightful romance simmering away between Paul and a famous singer whose mother disapproves of him. And then there's Paul's father, who helped found Fisk University, a black university in Tennessee for freedmen. And then there's Paul, who designed today's law firm hierarchy.
All in all, an absorbing, entertaining read, I’m more than happy to recommend. My quotes are from the NetGalley preview copy so may have changed in the final publication.
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