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The Last Days of Night


The Last Days of Night

Graham Moore is an Oscar-winning writer who penned the screenplay to The Imitation Game, as well as the bestselling Sherlock Holmes-inspired novel, THE SHERLOCKIAN. In his latest book, THE LAST DAYS OF NIGHT, it is ironic that a story involving famous historical characters like Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla and J.P. Morgan would have a relative unknown as its emotional center.

Paul Cravath, the founder of the firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, has yet to make his mark in the legal field at the start of the novel, which is set in 1888 New York City. Fresh out of law school, Paul is contacted by electrical inventor George Westinghouse, who, it seems, requires some legal defense as he has just received a lawsuit in the amount of one billion dollars from none other than Thomas Edison.

"...a riveting read that inserts extremely well-known historical figures into a fictionalized retelling of perhaps the most important patent dispute in U.S. history."

Having already beaten down the rest of his competition and winning the race to the patent office for the first working light bulb, Edison now rules a field that contains only two warriors --- himself and Westinghouse. Because Westinghouse has also produced a light bulb ready to go to market, Edison seeks to crush him with his wealth, might, reputation and team of attorneys.

Paul jumps at the opportunity because he believes in the case and feels that Westinghouse can take down the giant Edison. As ironic as the fact that Paul is the lead character in this work of historical fiction is the fact that his character is described as being a teller of concise tales who realizes that even a true story is a fiction. Paul will have to work up quite a story to convince the court of Westinghouse's right to produce his own light bulb.

Edison confronts Paul early on and tells him he will not only ruin Westinghouse but will own his entire company. Little does he realize that Westinghouse has a few business colleagues and other connections that might help him eclipse the financial might and reputation of Edison himself --- namely the world-famous inventor Nikola Tesla and American billionaire J.P. Morgan.

Through it all, Westinghouse insists he did not copy Edison's light bulb but merely improved on it, thus the case that a court of law must decide on: Who invented the light bulb? Much of the novel focuses on Paul and his building a case on Westinghouse's behalf. The love/hate relationship with Tesla and the eventual backing of Morgan make for such great, intense reading that it is difficult to believe this is a work of historical fiction.

Paul not only deals with this legion of larger-than-life characters but also finds the time to cultivate a relationship with the feisty Agnes Huntington, who would go on to be his only wife. When an electrical tragedy occurs that might find Edison and his invention at fault, the tables turn and the battle for the patent could be anyone's game now.

Historical fiction works best when it seems less like an encyclopedia and more like an armchair thriller. Graham Moore's novel is a riveting read that inserts extremely well-known historical figures into a fictionalized retelling of perhaps the most important patent dispute in U.S. history. It is easy to see how his hand was responsible for the terrific Alan Turing film, and THE LAST DAYS OF NIGHT simply begs for the big screen treatment as well.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 16, 2016

The Last Days of Night
by Graham Moore