Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Book Review: "The Last Days of Night" by Graham Moore

I recently heard an interview on Public radio with Graham Moore, 2015 Academy Award winning screenwriter for "The Imitation Game" and author of this current best seller, "The Last Days of Night".

The book is a novelization of a true event: a lawsuit brought by Thomas Edison against George Westinghouse in 1888 over the more-or-less simple question of "Who invented the light bulb?"  The real issue, however, was which system of electricity, Edison's Direct Current (DC) or Westinghouse's Alternating Current (AC) would be used to provide electricity throughout the United States.  Lots of money at stake in this quest.

The central character of the book is neither Edison nor Westinghouse, but a twenty-six year old lawyer named Paul Cravath who Westinghouse hired to be his lead litigator in this critical case.  Add in other key real-life characters such as opera singer Agnes Huntington, scientist/inventor Nikola Tesla, Alexander Graham Bell, and J.P. Morgan, and you come up with a pretty interesting story.

All the people in this book are real, and all of the incidents described did really take place, including all of the legal machinations that didn't resolve themselves until the lawsuits reached the United States Supreme Court.  Interestingly enough, the final decision of the Court - and I won't tell you who won the case - became pretty much irrelevant by the time the decision was handed down, because by that time, both some business maneuvering by all parties and rapidly advancing technologies rendered the issues of the suit pretty much moot.  It's a pretty interesting story.

My favorite scene in the book comes when Cravath pays a visit to Alexander Graham Bell, who was also involved in patent lawsuits with Edison.  Bell's comments on what a nuisance his invention, the telephone, turned out to be, as well as comments on science for science's sake versus business versus the need to rapidly expand technology were pretty fascinating.

I also learned how the practice of law in the United States was pretty much changed as a result of some of the processes put in place by Paul Cravath, a man of whom I had never heard.

Good story, good book.  The Grandstander gives it two and one-half stars out of four.

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