If you thought the 19th Century was a kinder, gentler time for the people responsible for break-through inventions, you would be mistaken – it was not much better than today.
The bitter battle for the electricity standard between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse was nastier than a bar room brawl. It has all the drama of a Hollywood movie, which, in fact, it is currently being made into.
Last Days of Night is a New York Times best-selling historical novel written by the Oscar-winning writer of “The Imitation Game.” It tells the true story of the battle between direct and alternating current for the electricity standard, one that involved fundamental patents, lawyers (Paul Cravath, 18 months out of Columbia Law School), lawsuits (312 of them), bankers (J.P. Morgan), a phobic inventor (Nikola Tesla), the press, and electrocutions of animals and a human.
Last Days of Night is not classic literature. Its short chapters give it the feel of a pot-boiler. However, the book’s is timely for an ability to reveal character – good and bad – in the face of adversity and is a keen observer of the inventive process.
It is no surprise that its author, Graham Moore, won an Oscar for his adaptation of The Imitation Game, the story of British mathematician Alan Turing, who cracked the Nazi’s enigma code, but who was a victim of his time.
Moore is currently adapting Last Days into a major motion picture starring Eddie Redmayne, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the young Steven Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The Last Days movie, with an all-star team in control, has a good shot at achieving what few books and films have: a realistic portrait of the relationship between inventions and the people and systems that drive them.
IAM subscribers go here for the May issue, which contains “Book Sheds New Light on an Epic Patent Battle,” a deeper dive into this strangely inspiring, mostly factual, novel that reminds us that the premium on new ideas is as tied to people as it is to capital and genius.
Much to his credit, Graham Moore’s provides a lengthy note from the author, detailing what he condensed in the novel and why. His historical timeline (mrgrahammoore.com) helps readers to separate fact from fiction, for a fuller appreciation of the people and events that helped to secure a bittersweet victory for AC.
To purchase Last Days of Night, go here.
Image source: mrgrahammoore.com