I use electricity every day, and it’s been around long enough that I don’t give it a second thought.
I knew Thomas Edison invented the light bulb (thanks National Treasure), but I wasn’t aware of the controversy that surrounded light bulbs a and electricity during the 1880s and into the 1890s.
Graham Moore uses fiction as a lens to bring this controversy and the lives of key players to life. And though I’ve never yet read an Erik Larson book, if it’s true that Moore’s Last Days of Night reads like Larson’s books, I’m excited to delve in.
Moore looks at the electricity war through the eyes of Paul Cravath, a young lawyer who takes on the case of George Westinghouse, who is being sued for patent infringement by Thomas Edison. The intrigue in the story is captivating, making you feel bad for poor Cravath who is fooled at every turn, it seems.
The story brings to life the world of inventing that most of us would never think of, and the various kinds of inventors. As Moore has Cravath reflect, Edison is an inventor who invents to solve problems. Westinghouse invents to create the best possible product. Nikola Tesla, who features prominently in the story also, invents for the joy of inventing. The advent of patents, while protecting an individual’s creation, also makes it challenging for others who have similar ideas or who know how to build on top of or improve an existing idea.
The book could very easily have gotten bogged down in technical jargon and scientific explanations that few would understand, but Moore did a good job explaining simply the concepts that needed to be explained.
An author’s note at the end helps readers understand the history mixed in with the fiction. While not all true, Moore did use real people and events throughout his story, though at times rearranging the chronology and condensing the timeline significantly. He goes through and outlines this in the author’s note, including also several primary and secondary sources he used.
Overall, it was a good read. The short chapters made it easy to squeeze one or two in when I had a few minutes, and while it is still a work of fiction, I feel more enlightened about the history of light bulbs and electricity than I had before.
Keep an eye out for The Last Days of Night, coming in the end of August.