Tuesday, September 20, 2016

My Amazon Review of Graham Moore's "The Last Days of Night: A Novel"

Westinghouse v. Edison

It is very hard to write an enjoyable book about a 1880s patent dispute, but screen writer (The Imitation Game”) Graham Moore brings to light the titanic struggle over U.S Patent Number 223898, Edison’s electric lamp. “The Last Days of Night” is a historical novel of the first order, mostly true with more than a few embellishments. Moore’s hero is the 26 year old lawyer Paul Cravath who goes on to found the very white shoe law firm, Cravath, Swaine and Moore. He also invents in real life the associate system that drives today’s giant law practices.

Cravath represents George Westinghouse in his fight to overturn Edison’s patent. The patent fight goes on against the backdrop of what was called the “current wars”. It was a war over Edison’s DC current versus Westinghouse’s AC current. Spoiler alert, as we know AC current wins largely because of its enormous distance advantage over DC current.

His portrait of Edison as both an inventor and avaricious businessman is acute and Westinghouse comes off as an aggressive “bet the company” businessman focused on product quality. We also meet the very mercurial scientist/inventor Nikola Tesla the prophet of AC current and of power of electromagnetic waves. It is not for nothing that Elon Musk named his electric car after him.

Because this will soon be a major motion picture Moore introduces Cravath’s love interest, the opera star, Agnes Huntington. Much of her role in the book is fictitious, but she does in real life marry Cravath.

There are cameo appearances for J.P. Morgan and Alexander Graham Bell. With them Moore brings out the merger between science and business that will literally power the American economy after the 1880s. I highly recommend the book and can’t wait for the movie.

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