I really wanted to like this book, and there were definitely some great moments in it with visceral setting and interesting factoids, but it all fell a bit flat for me.
“The Last Days of Night” is a fictional retelling of the patent wars between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse during the hey-day of America’s invention period. Moore chooses to tell this story from the Point of View of Westinghouse’s lawyer, Paul Cravath. It’s an ingenious way to tell a story riddled with scientific specifics and exceptionally technical ideas, and Moore does this well. Paul is fresh out of law school and knows little about life beyond paperwork and the halls of Columbia University, so his forays into representing Westinghouse in his case against Edison means that we get to learn all about the inner workings of these geniuses along with Paul. While Westinghouse, and later, Nikola Tesla, have to break down their scientific jingo into bite sized pieces for Paul, Moore is really also breaking it down for his reader.
Moore also does an excellent job of exposing these larger-than-life American heroes for the flawed people they were. Edison is a downright a**hat, Westinghouse is a nice man, but he’s got little clue for what goes on outside his factory, and Tesla lives on a different plane of mental stability, even by modern standards.
However, there was no nuance to this book. It was easy to guess where the plot was going from a mile away, even without knowing the history, and as much research as I’m sure Moore did for this story, there were many plot devices in the book that may have happened in real life (I’m the first to admit that life can be stranger than fiction), but they just seemed too easy, like Moore had a hole in the real story and filled it with a cliche so he could move on quickly to the interesting parts.
The relationship between Paul and his love interest, Agnes, was painfully cliche, and they had zero chemistry on the page. Part of this was their relationship was so backstage to the rest of what was going on, that when Agnes showed up to be a formidable part of the plot, it felt like Moore was just including her because he needed a leading female among the very male major cast. And while I appreciate a Victorian heroine who does something, I had some issues believing society would have allowed her to contribute they way she did.
Overall, this was a fast read that shed some light (hehe) on the electricity wars that created the General Electric company we know today. It’s a good beach read, or something to pick up if you need a palette cleanser in between meatier stuff.
2.5 rounded up to 3 because Tesla’s character was awesome.