I first heard of this book by Graham Moore around the time it came out. The publisher had given a copy to the woman who owns Roscoe Books, which hosts Book Riot’s IRL Read Harder book group every month. She gave a brief description of it, and said that isn’t normally her thing, but she really enjoyed this one. But, as she was giving her initial description, I thought, “That sounds right up my alley!” I acquired a copy shortly after that and it got shoved in my closet along with a bunch of other books I have yet to get around to.
Fast forward a year or two and my book club elected to read this book. I didn’t vote on it because I didn’t recognize the title, but when it became clear it was going to win the poll, I looked it up and immediately recognized the cover. So I dusted off my copy and got reading.
I really enjoyed this book!
It’s about the Current War between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, and I have to admit, I don’t think I had ever heard of George Westinghouse before reading this book. Thomas Edison, of course, owned the patent for the light bulb and started Edison General Electric (which is now just General Electric). Westinghouse was the founder of Westinghouse Electric Company, and he and his team had managed to perfect Edison’s design on the light bulb to make a version that was more efficient and lasted longer. Edison promptly sued them for patent infringement and Westinghouse hired Paul Cravath, a young attorney who was already part owner of a law firm before he reached 30, but had very little experience. It turned out that one of Cravath’s family members knew Westinghouse, which is how Cravath got the job of representing one of the country’s biggest companies in the most famous patent lawsuit to date.
The question revolves around the extent of the patent. Does Edison own the patent on all light bulbs, or just his particular design? Since patent law was fairly new at this point, they were all swimming in uncharted waters and which way the judge would rule was even less certain then than it is now.
So Paul is doing his best to win this case, and while he is Nikola Tesla enters the picture, and I have to admit I hadn’t heard of him either before reading this book. He gives a demonstration on the potential of alternating current. Up until this point, everyone has been using direct current because alternating current is unreliable, but Tesla has figured out how to get even more wattage out of alternating current, and to get it to travel farther than direct current. There’s a section where Westinghouse explains the difference between AC and DC to Cravath, but I can’t do it justice, so if you don’t already know the difference, I would suggest looking it up or just reading the book yourself. I thought the book did a really good job of making the complicated electrical engineering concepts accessible to the average reader, but as it turns out, Moore got some critical things wrong when it came to how he dealt with AC and DC in his novel?
The point (for the purposes of the story) is that Edison’s light bulb patent might soon be obsolete if Westinghouse or someone else can hire Tesla to design light bulbs that can reliably use AC instead of DC.
The plot only gets more convoluted from there, with espionage and sabotage and even a bit of romance thrown in for good measure. It’s a real page turner and I just could not put it down.
Unfortunately, I seem to be alone in that assessment among the members of my book club. While the book is based on real events, Moore admits he changed the order of some events and added things to fill in character and plot development. That caused many of my fellow book club members to lower their opinion of this book, but I’m totally fine with it. There’s a reason it’s called historical fiction, and if it makes for a better read, then go for it.
Many of the other members of my book club also didn’t like the fact that the book was fast paced and many chapters ended on cliff hangers. They thought it was cheesy, but I had no problem with it. It kept me reading and I don’t see how that’s a bad thing.
What did you read this week? Anything else that some of your friends loved and other friends hated?