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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “A world of invention and skulduggery, populated by the likes of Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla.”—Erik Larson
“A model of superior historical fiction . . . an exciting, sometimes astonishing story.”—The Washington Post
From Graham Moore, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game and New York Times bestselling author of The Sherlockian, comes a thrilling novel—based on actual events—about the nature of genius, the cost of ambition, and the battle to electrify America.
New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?
The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?
In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
“A satisfying romp . . . Takes place against a backdrop rich with period detail . . . Works wonderfully as an entertainment . . . As it charges forward, the novel leaves no dot unconnected.”—Noah Hawley, The New York Times Book Review
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Last Days of Night
People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. —Steve Jobs
May 11, 1888
On the day that he would first meet Thomas Edison, Paul watched a man burn alive in the sky above Broadway.
The immolation occurred late on a Friday morning. The lunchtime bustle was picking up as Paul descended from his office building onto the crowded street. He cut an imposing figure against the flow of pedestrians: six feet four inches, broad shouldered, cleanshaven, clothed in the matching black coat, vest, and long tie that was to be expected of New York’s young professional men. His hair, perfectly parted on the left, had just begun to recede into a gentle widow’s peak. He looked older than his twenty-six years.
As Paul joined the throng along Broadway, he briefly noticed a young man in a Western Union uniform standing on a ladder. The workman was fiddling with electrical wires, the thick black cables that had recently begun to streak the skies of the city. They crisscrossed the thinner, older telegraph wires, and the spring winds had gusted them into a knotty bundle. The Western Union man was attempting to untangle the two sets of wires. He looked like a child flummoxed by enormous shoelaces.
Paul’s mind was on coffee. He was still new to the financial district, new to his law firm’s offices on the third floor of 346 Broadway. He hadn’t determined which of the local coffeehouses he preferred. There was the one to the north, along Walker. And the slower-serving but more fashionable one, on Baxter, with the rooster on the door. Paul was tired. The air felt good against his cheeks. He hadn’t been outside yet that day. He’d slept in his office the night before.
When he saw the first spark, he didn’t immediately realize what was happening. The workman grabbed hold of a wire and tugged. Paul heard a pop—just a quick, strange pop—as the man shuddered. Paul would later remember seeing a flash, even if at the time he wasn’t sure what it was. The workman reached out for support, grasping another wire with his free hand. This, Paul would come to understand, was the man’s mistake. He’d created a connection. He’d become a live conductor.
And then both of the workman’s arms jolted with orange sparks.
There had to be two hundred people crowding the street that morning, and every head seemed to turn at the same time. Financiers parading in their wide-brimmed top hats; stock traders’ assistants sprinting down to Wall Street clutching secret messages; social secretaries in teal skirts and sharp matching jackets; accountants out hunting for sandwiches; ladies in Doucet dresses visiting from Washington Square; local politicians eager for their duck lunches; a fleet of horses dragging thick-wheeled cabs over the uneven cobblestones. Broadway was the artery that fueled lower Manhattan. A wealth heretofore unknown on the face of the earth was burbling up from beneath these very streets. In the morning’s paper Paul had read that John Jacob Astor had just become officially richer than the Queen of England.
All eyes fixed on the man in the air. A blue flame shot from his mouth. The flame set fire to his hair. His clothes burned off instantly. He fell forward, his arms still wrapped around the wires. His feet dangled against the ladder. His body assumed the position of Jesus upon the cross. The blue flame fired through his mouth and melted the skin from his bones.
No one had screamed yet. Paul still wasn’t even sure what he was watching. He had seen violence before. He’d grown up on a Tennessee farm. Death and the dying were unspectacular sights along the Cumberland River. But he’d never seen anything like this.
Epochal seconds later, as the man’s blood poured onto the teenage newsboys below, the screaming began. A stampede of bodies fled the scene. Grown men knocked into women. The newsboys ran through the crowd, not heading anywhere in particular, simply running. Trying to pull the charred flesh from their hair.
The horses reared on their haunches, kicking their legs into the sky. Their hooves flew at the faces of their panicked owners. Paul was frozen in place until he saw a newsboy fall in front of the wheels of a two-horse carriage. The stallions shook at their reins, lurching forward and drawing the wheels toward the boy’s chest. Paul was not aware of making the decision to lunge—he simply did it. He grabbed the boy by the shoulder, pulling him out of the road.
Paul used his coat sleeve to brush the dirt and blood from the child’s face. But before Paul could check him for injuries, the boy fled into the crowd again.
Paul sat down against a nearby telegraph pole. His stomach churned. He realized he was panting and tried to steady his breath as he rested in the dirt.
It was another ten minutes before the ringing of bells announced the arrival of the firemen. Three horses pulled a water truck to a stop beside the grim scene. A half dozen firemen in black-buttoned uniforms lifted their disbelieving eyes to the sky. One reached instinctively for his steam-powered hose, but the rest simply gazed in horror. This was like no fire they’d ever witnessed. This was electricity. And the dark marvel of man-made lightning was as mysterious and incomprehensible as an Old Testament plague.
Paul sat transfixed for the forty-five minutes it took the fearful firemen to cut down the blackened body. He took in every detail of what he saw, not to remember, but to forget.
Paul was an attorney. And this was what his as yet brief career in the law had done to his brain. He was comforted by minutiae. His mortal fears could be assuaged only by an encyclopedic command of detail.
Paul was a professional builder of narratives. He was a teller of concise tales. His work was to take a series of isolated events and, shearing from them their dross, craft from them a progression. The morning’s discrete images—a routine labor, a clumsy error, a grasping arm, a crowded street, a spark of fire, a blood-speckled child, a dripping corpse—could be assembled into a story. There would be a beginning, a middle, and an end. Stories reach conclusions, and then they go away. Such is their desperately needed magic. That day’s story, once told in his mind, could be wrapped up, put aside, and recalled only when necessary. The properly assembled narrative would guard his mind from the terror of raw memory
Even a true story is a fiction, Paul knew. It is the comforting tool we use to organize the chaotic world around us into something comprehensible. It is the cognitive machine that separates the wheat of emotion from the chaff of sensation. The real world is overfull with incidents, brimming over with occurrences. In our stories, we disregard most of them until clear reason and motivation emerge. Every story is an invention, a technological device not unlike the very one that on that morning had seared a man’s skin from his bones. A good story could be put to no less dangerous a purpose.
As an attorney, the tales that Paul told were moral ones. There existed, in his narratives, only the injured and their abusers. The slandered and the liars. The swindled and the thieves. Paul constructed these characters painstakingly until the righteousness of his plaintiff—or his defendant—became overwhelming. It was not the job of a litigator to determine facts; it was his job to construct a story from those facts by which a clear moral conclusion would be unavoidable. That was the business of Paul’s stories: to present an undeniable view of the world. And then to vanish, once the world had been so organized and a profit fairly earned. A bold beginning, a thrilling middle, a satisfying end, perhaps one last little twist, and then . . . gone. Catalogued and boxed, stored for safekeeping.
All Paul had to do was to tell today’s story to himself and it would disappear. To revisit the images over and over in his head. Salvation through repetition.
But as it turned out, a flaming corpse over Broadway was only the second most terrifying thing that Paul Cravath would see that day.
Later that evening—after his secretary had departed to her Yorkville apartment, after his senior partners had retired to their upper Fifth Avenue three-stories, long after Paul had failed to leave for his Fiftieth Street bachelor’s flat and instead penned so many notes with his rubber Waterman that the blister popped on his right middle finger—a boy arrived at the office door. He bore a telegram.
“Your presence is desired immediately,” read the message. “Much to discuss in strictest confidence.”
It was signed “T. Edison.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Amazing writer and story. I am not able to put this book down! Edison,Tesla,Westinghouse, what an exciting time of invention one that changed the course of our lives to this day! Great men, written by a great man Graham Moore!
Loved this book not only for irs historical content and perspective but for the eloquent writing. The author transported me back in time and that is always a rewarding read.
Very interesting book on the the times of Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla and the drive to bring electricity to the US in the late 1880s. A very captivating, and in some cases, uncomplimentary look at the inventors, and the challenges they faced. What I also found as a fascinating facet is that of young lawyer, Paul Cravath, who was retained by Westinghouse to defend him against the hundreds of lawsuits filed by Edison. What I did not realize is that Cravath, the founder of the NYC law firm, Cravath Swaine and Moore, is credited with creating the law firm as we now know it, whether good or bad. A fun and interesting read.
This is a part of history I was totally unaware of – the battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse – over the light bulb. In the late 1800’s there was a major legal battle between these two powerhouses. Edison filed over 300 lawsuits against Westinghouse for the unheard of amount of $1B, yes, one billion dollars – in the late 1800’s. Add to the mix Tesla, the mad scientist who came up with the idea of alternating current. And we mustn’t forget JP Morgan, the sly one with the money. Each with his own agenda. Electricity was something new and mysterious in the United States at that time. These men knew that whoever won the lawsuits stood to control the direction of electricity in the US. The book is written from the perspective of the young attorney, Paul Cravath, who represented Westinghouse. The book is well written and held my attention. The past was brought to life. I really liked Tesla who cared nothing for the money. He just liked to take his ideas and turn them into reality. Politics, intrigue, ambition, a touch of romance…all are found in this remarkable story.
I was expecting a Thriller not a historical piece. I will recommend to my son though !
The story and book were thoroughly enjoyable. Loved the historical content. Well worth the read if you enjoy history and the work of the main characters featured.
"The Last Days of Night" tells the story of George Westinghouse's young lawyer, Paul Cravath, as he seeks to defend him from Thomas Edison's 312 lawsuits. Paul is somewhat of a prodigy, having accelerated his career to partner mere years after graduation from Colombia. Westinghouse is a huge client, and potentially career ending, as Edison is suing him for a lot seemingly with cause. They both are putting electricity around the country and installing their own lightbulbs- lightbulbs for which Edison has a patent (maybe). Paul's job is to determine how much of this can be argued and to establish a full case for Westinghouse, which he does masterfully. Paul recruits Nikola Tesla (a name which we will all recognize) fairly early in the book. Tesla is an intriguing character herein, and he brings some humor and much more interest into the story as a multi-faceted character and complex man. Thus begins the war between currents (alternating or direct). This book and others have linked these battles to the PC vs Mac computer rivalry which currently exists. The book sparked an interest in me to google more about these men and their pasts. I found this article helpful/interesting from a different point of view (From the Smithsonian): http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/edison-vs-westinghouse-a-shocking-rivalry-102146036/ Anyway, the book reads like a legal procedural with some flare for drama. It does not get bogged down in historical facts but it does contain quite a lot of them (some are summarized at the end to tell what was true/embellished for the novel). The characters are given full-bodied personalities and it does read like fiction at times, while at others, it reads very flat/unidirectional. It's difficult to write fiction about history and maintain accuracy. I think it works fairly well here, but it does have the presence of a History channel documentary at times. Overall, it is entertaining and the plot moves along steadily. My favorite part of the book was the quotes at the beginning of each chapter- they were quite entertaining (some from Edison, but also from Jobs, Gates, Watson, etc.). They were very cleverly selected. Paul is an easy character to like and empathize with and makes a good center for this story. Altogether, it's an engaging retelling of a historical rivalry. Please note that I received an ARC through a goodreads giveaway. All opinions are my own.
Moore’s prose is lyrical and inventive. He not only brings these historical characters to life, makes you takes sides, and helps you to better understand them past their notoriety, but he also brings the reader into the setting and era through his descriptive writing. In this novel, we get to know Mr. Westinghouse, Mr. Edison, Mr. Tesla, and Mr. Cravath, all inventors, of a type, in their own right. Before this novel, I had never even heard of Cravath, but upon doing some research, I learned that he’s responsible for the ways in which law offices work today and they even still call it the “Cravath System”. What’s more surprising, is that through Moore’s writing, I realized that I had no idea who George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla are beyond their contributions to science (and some of those I didn’t know either) and their inventions. Moore weaves a story and presents a dramatic stage for these men and I was enthralled from page one. Honestly. I think, beyond the story, my favorite part of this book was the author’s notes. Moore gives a chapter by chapter breakdown of where the story diverged from history and where it remained true. As a history buff, I was deeply appreciative of this. Knowing these changes, additions, and embellishments adds to my personal enjoyment of a historical fiction novel. Moore also included his sources with each note so that the reader can find out more for themselves, which I plan on doing. I had no idea that Edison, Westinghouse, Tesla, and J.P. Morgan were such fascinating men beyond what I know of them from the very basic. They are no more simple than the debate of who really invented the light bulb is.
Graham Moore’s latest work, The Last Days of Night, is all about America’s current war. It’s the story of Thomas Edison vs. George Westinghouse and their very public battle to determine if Americans would use direct current or alternating current. When Edison files three hundred twelve lawsuits against his rival Westinghouse claiming infringement of his incandescent light bulb patent, a young, untested and very ambitious attorney is hired to handle the case. It took me a little while to get into the story, but when I did, I very much liked it. What could have been a pretty dull story is made interesting, even exciting by Graham Moore. There is plenty of intrigue and skulduggery in this read. His characterizations are excellent and, for me, truly make the story. America’s favorite inventor, Edison, is portrayed in an unflattering light. He comes across as conceited, ruthless and determined to win at all costs. I really, really disliked him and wanted him to lose. Westinghouse is depicted in a more flattering light. Nikola Tesla has a part in the story, too, and is represented as quirky, if not odd, whose interest is only science and inventing, a true genius. This is historical fiction and the author explains how he compressed time lines and how his story differs from actual events in his note at the end of the book.
I received a fee electronic copy of this book from Graham Moore, Netgalley and Random House Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for sharing your work with me. This book, set in New York City in 1888 - 1890, brings to life the personalities of Edison, Westinghouse, Bell and Tesla, and the rapid growth of the electric industry in the northeast. I found it an interesting and compelling tale, one I could not put down. Of the many things we take for granted in the 21st century electric power has to be at the top of the list. Thank you, Graham Moore, for the obviously extensive research behind this enjoyable tale. I enjoyed the lives of Paul and Agnes as portrayed, and hope their relationship was as interesting as you imagined it to be. And thanks again, for the excellent afterward, and recommended reading list.
When I first started reading this book, it felt like it was being narrated by the voice of the guy on Dragnet and I was like "oh no". What have I got myself into. Very shortly after that, the words started to flow and I really got into the book. Every once in a while a name would come up and I would recognize it. Then my live and dead brain cells would think - I know that name - Nikola Tesla was the biggest one. I had heard that name and I just couldn't remember what he had done. Well, I learned a lot after that. This was just such an interesting book. I know a lot of the conversations were made up, but the overall story was real. I had never heard of a feud between Edison and Westinghouse. When I told my roommate about it, he knew all about it. Apparently, I was taking the definition of high school seriously that day. Anyways, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was both informational, educational and entertaining all at the same time. The author made it fun to read about this epic historical event and am very thankful to Random House for approving me and Net Galley for providing me a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
The Last Days of Night is everything I love about historical fiction. It is engaging and dramatic, whilst sharing mostly accurate details about historical events, so the reader is both entertained, and to some degree, educated. Of course, it is fiction, so the responsibility is on the reader to root out the truth…unless, of course, the writer is Graham Moore, who spells out the facts he altered and why at the end of the book. Brilliant! The book revolves around the “current” wars – the battle over the best ways to harness electricity. While there were many, many players in the electricity game, the biggest and most famous were Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla. And it was a nasty battle indeed. Which current was safest (A/C or D/C)? What light bulb design is the best and who truly designed it? What else does the world not yet know it’s always needed? Who can beat who to the patent office? It is a time period wrought with drama, and Graham Moore has brought it to life! There are several reasons I was attracted to this book. The cover is just beautiful and I’m a sucker for a great cover. Also, my husband is an IT guy and the son of an electrical engineer. While he isn’t a history buff, we talk a lot about technology development (Elon Musk is a frequent topic in our household), and none of today’s discoveries would be possible without the early inventors. But, despite my interest in technology development, I find non-fiction to be rather dry. Again I say, this is why love well-written historical fiction! Perhaps you don’t get all the minute details, but you get a general understanding, and then if your appetite is sufficiently whetted, you can dive into the non-fiction resources with a greater sense of passion. In other words, historical fiction is a kind of gateway drug, in the best way possible. Even if historical fiction isn’t your thing, I’d recommend this book because it’s simply wonderful. The writing is superb and the story is compelling. There isn’t a single bad thing I can say about it. It’s a must read. I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.