i needed a break from europe and the world wars, which has been the backdrop of almost all the historical fiction i've read this past year. the last days of night was a nice change of pace. set against the so called "war of the currents," we follow paul cravath as he is dragged into the middle of a battle of wills between thomas edison, nikola tesla, and george westinghouse.
i'll be honest, i had no idea that the current wars were a thing. what i knew of thomas edison was the whitewashed "he was a genius" story you're given in grade school. and since i went to grade school in new jersey where edison is also somewhat of a state hero, i didn't know that actually he was kind of an ass. the novel at one point takes pains to note that what thomas edison did so brilliantly was not invent, but rather find a way to industrialize ideas and invention. that is certainly a rather unique contribution to science and history, but he was also egotistical and petty. he was also calculating and mercenary. being those things don't make him evil. but he wasn't a saint. he was markedly human, and that is one thing this novel does well. it humanizes these great inventors and creates a compelling narrative around the drama of the current war.
because let's be honest, the merits of "direct current" versus "alternating current" technology isn't what you'd normally think of as riveting reading. but it is. and sure the author took some artistic liberty with the timeline, but he is also clear that many of the things that his historical characters say are part of the historical record he consulted. the characterizations of edison and westinghouse based on historical fact, not fiction.
ultimately this checked all the right boxes for me. it had interesting characters that i could root for, a compelling narrative with high stakes, and it taught me something. what more could i ask for?
**the last days of night is scheduled to publish on september 27, 2016. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/random house in exchange for my honest review.