Diane's Reviews > The Last Days of Night

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
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really liked it
bookshelves: audiobooks, historical-fiction

This novel wears its heart on its sleeve. I could tell the author loved his characters, flaws and all, and was fascinated by the time period. That enthusiasm rubbed off on me, and I enjoyed this book more than I expected.

The Last Days of Night is historical fiction about the electrifying feud between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse in the late 1800s. We see the battle through the eyes of a young lawyer, Paul Cravath, who Westinghouse hired to represent him in the long legal fight against Edison.

If you are unfamiliar with the drama that surrounded the fight over alternating current and direct current (AC/DC, for short), you are in for a treat. The author based his novel around many actual events and people, including the enigmatic Nikola Tesla. The result is an engaging look at a unique corner of science and American history. There are some truly shocking stories in here, and I confess I didn't know that Edison was such an egotistical scoundrel. Whereas Tesla was so brilliant and endearing and misunderstood that I just wanted to give him a hug, if he would have allowed anyone to enter his personal space, that is.

Now, this novel isn't perfect, as historical fiction rarely is. I thought the female character of Agnes was sometimes written a little too cutesy, which was irksome. And the author followed the current publishing trend of writing really short chapters, which made the pace go faster, but it also felt jumpy and contrived. When did it become a crime to write chapters that were more than 4 pages?

Additionally, the author included famous quotes before each chapter, including a lot from Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, allowing the reader to draw comparisons to the famous Apple v. Microsoft technology battle that happened about a century after Edison v. Westinghouse. While the quotes started out interesting, they quickly became excessive because there were so many freaking chapters, and the modern references took the reader out of the historical period. I don't think there needed to be 70+ extra quotes. A few choice ones at the major section breaks would have sufficed.

But these are small complaints. Overall I enjoyed reading this, and I appreciated the author's detailed note at the end explaining which people and events were real, where the timing was compressed to improve storytelling, etc. The author also gave recommendations for other books on the subject. I thought this story was so interesting I plan on looking up some of those nonfiction books, especially a biography on Tesla.

Recommended for fans of historical fiction.

Favorite Quotes
"The death of mathematical education will be the death of this country," proclaimed [Westinghouse]. "A generation of young men who have never even heard of the calculus, much less possess the ability to determine the instantaneous rates of change. What will you lot invent?"

"Quietly, in secret, from an impromptu, subterranean laboratory in the Tennessee plains, Tesla had teamed with the precocious sons of southern freedman to engineer wonders stranger than anything Edison and his well-heeled peers might have dreamed. Paul had once thought that Thomas Edison was the most American man of his generation. But looking around the worktable before him at Tesla and his students ... Paul saw another America. This one had been born in an impoverished Serbian village and a West Tennessee cotton field. Where the first America was brilliant, the second was ingenious. What the first America did not invent, the second would tinker into being. What Wall Street would not fund, a Nashville basement would build. This was what men like Edison and Morgan feared."

"Who had invented the light bulb? That was the question that started the whole story off. It was all of them. Only together could they have birthed the system that was now the bone and sinew of these United States. No one man could have done it. In order to produce such a wonder, Paul realized, the world required men like each of them. Visionaries like Tesla. Craftsmen like Westinghouse. Salesmen like Edison."
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Reading Progress

August 16, 2016 – Shelved
September 20, 2016 – Started Reading
September 20, 2016 –
29.0% "Buildings are ephemeral. It is ideas that last forever."
September 21, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by Dolors (new)

Dolors Sounds like a compelling, good quality historical fiction, Diane. I think it would also make a great movie! Great review.


Diane Thanks, Dolors! And yes, this would make a good movie!


message 3: by Diane S ☔ (new) - added it

Diane S ☔ Wonderful review, Diane. One I hope to get to soon.


Diane Thanks, Diane S! This was an enjoyable read. I hope you like it, too.


message 5: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Diane wrote: "Thanks, Dolors! And yes, this would make a good movie!"

Have y'all seen the movie "The Prestige"? The only thing I remember from it now is the character of Tesla.


Diane I love that movie! David Bowie was perfect in his cameo of Tesla.


Diane BTW, I saw that there are plans to make this book into a movie, with Eddie Redmayne to star as Paul.


message 8: by Cathy (new) - added it

Cathy Love the word play on "electrifying feud."


Diane Thanks, Cathy! I figured the topic was good for puns.


Jennifer This looks absolutely fascinating! I had no idea about this feud. Thanks so much for bringing this book to my attention.


Diane Hi Jennifer, I'm glad you are intrigued! I hope you get a chance to enjoy it.


Cheeky Cher Looking forward to reading this one, even more so since reading your review, Diane. :)


message 13: by Warwick (new)

Warwick I read Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World not long back, and thought then the period seemed to have a lot of potential for novelisation. Sounds like fun.


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