This is a review I’ve had pending for a while, since I actually read this book back in August when I was home visiting my family in Milan. It was a Net Galley pick and I’ve been trying to get caught up on my reviews over there (aren’t we all), so here I am finally getting around to it.
The Last Days Of Night is a historical fiction novel that has a scientific component, so it reminded me in some ways of The Other Einstein. In The Last Days Of Night, however, there is much more action and less romance. The science in The Other Einstein is also relatively minimal due to its theoretical nature, while in The Last Days Of Night, the nature of electricity and the technological discovery of the light bulb are really at the center of the narrative.
Ultimately, for atypical historical fiction that has a significant scientific backdrop, I would definitely recommend The Last Days Of Night. Read my full review to find out more.
The Last Days Of Night
by Graham Moore
Publication Date: August 16th 2016
Publisher: Random House
Length in hardcover: 368 pages
Goodreads rating: 4.13
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?
A successful mix of different elements. This novel is in essence a mystery, but one that has so many additional interconnected elements that it becomes really engrossing. The different kinds of story lines included in the novel spanned history, science, the law, a little romance and a significant amount of action. Each element was very well balanced among the others (aside from the romance that felt a bit thrown in – see below) and I felt like the author was really successful in bringing such a broad array of components together in a cohesive whole. It’s not easy to juggle that level of complexity in a narrative, and Moore really made the book feel like a single journey or adventure, despite its intricacy.
Learned a lot on the history of electricity. I love scientific nonfiction and I love historical fiction, so obviously I also love historical fiction that has some scientific history thrown in. Moore doesn’t hold back on including details on the discovery and development of electricity and the light bulb from the narrative, and the larger-than-life scientific figures who were involved in the legal battle over the lightbulb patent are smack-dab in the center of the action. I learned a lot about not just how the lightbulb was created (and by whom), but about the lives and origins of the men who squabbled over credit for it, and of the genius (Nikola Tesla) who changed the world through one of his many inventions – alternating current.
Well-developed, interesting characters. The protagonist of the story – Paul – is a young lawyer at the beginning of his career that Moore depicts as kind of hopelessly naive, but also as charming in his efforts to do the right thing and come to the rescue of others. Moore’s protagonist sometimes necessarily takes a bit of a back seat to the extraordinary personalities of the men at the center of the novel’s mystery – Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla. This is obviously a fictional sketch of these celebrated figures from scientific history, and Edison’s character is deeply vilified, but all three still come out of Moore’s pen as fully formed, deeply fascinating and engaging figures. Paul is left to bounce around between them almost as a foil for the reader’s own enthrallment with their larger-than-life personas.
Excellent writing. This novel was written in a different style than I typically prefer, but somehow it still really worked for me. Sometimes I love long, flowery sentences and ultra-descriptive prose, but in The Last Days Of Night. there was an immediacy to Moore’s writing that really suited the male-dominated and sometimes almost technical feel of this novel. Moore opts for short, almost telegram-like sentences, that sometimes read like a news bulletin and add an urgency and agility to his prose. I also really loved that Moore included quotes at the beginning of each chapter from different prominent historical figures that were connected to technological inventions, like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
The love story felt a bit thrown in. I’ve noticed that sometimes male authors just don’t do a great job of portraying female characters, and this was one of those times. The heroine (if she can be called that) who ends up being the ying to Paul’s yang is barely a caricature of an actual person. Agnes is essentially a pre-flapper version of a party girl with only a slight complexity to her personality, and the denouement of her friendship with Paul feels as inevitable as it is predictable. I don’t know that this novel needed any romance at all – but it almost felt like the author thought he had to throw some in so that the story would have at least one significant female character other than George Westinghouse’s wife (who is also barely in there).
Deeply rooted in its historical context and illuminating (ha!) on the history of the lightbulb and its primary players, this novel will be accessible to those who have found other historical fiction too focused on romance.
Graham Moore is a New York Times bestselling novelist and Academy Award-winning screenwriter. His screenplay for The Imitation Game won the Academy Award and WGA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2015 and was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. The film, directed by Morten Tyldum and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, received 8 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.
Graham’s first novel, The Sherlockian (2010), was published in 16 countries and translated into 13 languages. It was called “sublime” and “clever” and “delightful” by the New York Times, “savvy” and “entertaining” by the Los Angeles Times, and lots of other nice things as well.
Have you read The Last Days Of Night? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.
You can also read my other recent Just Read reviews, including for historical fiction novel The Rules Of Magic by Alice Hoffman, contemporary novel The Best Kind Of People by Zoe Whittall, political memoir What Happened by Hillary Clinton, audiobook of contemporary fiction title Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, biography Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words by Andrew Morton, and political memoir Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco.
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