An illuminating look at the compulsion of invention
Author: Graham Moore
I don’t grasp the principles of electricity, and to be honest I don’t give them much thought. (As long as I have a working lamp on my bedside table so I can read at night, I’m good, thank you.) How is it, then, that I could not put down Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night?
This historical novel about electricity—yes, really—is briskly moving and entirely engrossing. It breaks down the real-life drama behind U.S. Patent #233,898, otherwise known as the patent for the incandescent light: “The whole of the thing was fewer than one thousand words. To think of what legal warfare those few words had birthed.”
The book centers on Paul Cravath, a young Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School who is “confident, collected, energetically eager.” Through a strange confluence of events, he ends up assuming the formidable task of representing scientist and inventor George Westinghouse. Westinghouse has been sued by Thomas Edison, because the two can’t seem to agree on which of them invented the light bulb first. Their mushrooming disagreement is both captivating and a train wreck waiting to happen.
Moore is superb at conjuring up America in the late 1880s. His whip-smart cast of characters, which includes other notable figures like Alexander Graham Bell, J.P. Morgan and Nikola Tesla, takes us on a wild ride through a nation bursting at the seams to discover, invent, and create. They travel from New York City to Nashville, from science lab to dinner party, and we feel their sense of urgency as, one by one, light bulbs replace gas lamps, forever altering our country’s landscape.
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