Last Days of Night Summary & Study Guide

Graham Moore
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Last Days of Night Summary & Study Guide Description

Last Days of Night Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Last Days of Night by Graham Moore.

NOTE: Citations in this study guide refer to the following version of the novel: The Last Days of Night. Kindle version, published by Scribner (2016).

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore documents the battle to win the patent for the electric bulb in the closing years of the nineteenth century. A young lawyer must fight for his client on the losing side and harness some of the qualities of his opponent in order to win.

Paul Cravath, a young lawyer, was leaving his office and heading home when he witnessed a terrible accident. A workman was electrocuted while attempting a repair on a cable above the streets. Paul knew that as a possible witness in the future he would need to be able to recall what had happened.

Later, Paul received a telegram from a Mr. T. Edison requesting a meeting. When Paul went to Edison's office, Edison warned Paul not to try to defeat him in an upcoming lawsuit. Paul responded by saying that Edison was being counter-sued. After a display of electrical power at the Statue of Liberty, Paul knew Edison was determined to win.

Paul recalled how privileged he was to be in his position as partner at a lawyer firm. His uncle had made a recommendation and Paul was invited to meet George Westinghouse. He had impressed Westinghouse enough to be offered the job as an attorney. Rather than going to court, Paul tried to suggest forming a merger with Edison. However, Westinghouse said that he had already tried with Edison to no avail.

Paul began to break down the meaning of each individual word in all of the laws that applied to inventions. His attention to detail would help him interpret how the laws applied to determining who actually invented the light bulb. He and his partners decided they needed to recruit a spy. They chose one who formerly worked for Edison, Reginald Fessenden. They persuaded him to accept. Fessenden recommended another engineer who would know more about the invention. The engineer turned out to be Nikola Tesla.

When learning Tesla would be giving a lecture, Paul and Westinghouse went to Columbia College where Tesla gave an extremely brief speech before demonstrating a device using alternating current electricity. Paul caught up to Tesla to persuade him to work with Westinghouse. Over dinner, Tesla revealed how Edison had taken advantage of him. After Tesla left a fifty thousand dollar check on the table, Paul wondered what motivated Tesla if not money. He visited Tesla's attorney, and they agreed that Tesla's patents could be licensed out to Westinghouse.

Westinghouse's plan was to use Tesla's patent to create an entirely different light bulb from that of Edison. A formal dinner was arranged to welcome Tesla, but something scared him. After the scare, he never left the laboratory. One day Agnes Huntington, an actress/singer came to Paul's office with her mother Fannie. They needed legal advice for a matter with Agnes' former employer. However, Paul had no time to spare. Paul's father came briefly to visit, but Paul had to leave on short notice to meet with Westinghouse. When Paul arrived, he was scolded for not anticipating Edison's next move. Then, word came that Tesla had quit his new position.

After being admonished again at his partners' office, Paul knew he had to find Tesla again. Paul visited the Huntingtons' house to offer his services and ask Agnes to help him find Tesla. Agnes took him to a private party where Tesla was impressing the guests with his scientific knowledge. Tesla invited Paul to his new laboratory, where they were suddenly caught in the middle of a fire. Paul was hospitalized for his injuries. The police questioned him. Tesla disappeared without trace. When Westinghouse visited, he told Paul that he was sorry for putting Paul in that position. Then, Paul visited Tesla's attorney again who accused Paul of setting the fire.

Paul continued to search for Tesla while continuing with Agnes and Fannie's case. He received a telegram from Agnes telling him to come to the theater, where he found Tesla hiding in Agnes' dressing room. Tesla was unable to communicate, and Agnes offered to let him stay at her house, where Paul visited to check on him regularly. Paul searched through Edison's patents and went to a lecture where he hired some students as associate attorneys to help with the case. He recommended that Agnes give an interview to tell her side of the story.

Paul saw in the news that alternating current was being reported as dangerous. He attended a public display where Edison's associate started killing dogs with alternating current to demonstrate its danger. Paul broke into the associate's laboratory where he found a letter from Edison who planned to promote alternating current for use in executions. Paul then learned that his assistants had found a flaw in Edison's patent. A hearing was held where Edison claimed to be the sole inventor of the light bulb.

After Fannie told Paul that Tesla needed to leave, Paul and Agnes took Tesla to his parents' house in Tennessee, where Agnes revealed one evening that she was not really called Agnes Huntington. Agnes shared her story about her past with Paul. Agnes had been born Agnes Gouge to a working class mother, and they had moved to Boston to find more opportunities. One day Agnes' mother stole a dress, and they left for Europe to start a new life. They changed their name to Huntington. Agnes gained a reputation as a great singer. After coming back to America, she had become a celebrity.

In the present, Paul and Agnes shared a kiss. The next morning they boarded the train back home, where Paul had to divert his route when he saw news of a man facing the death penalty. Paul tried to claim that Edison's company would not be able to use Westinghouse generators, but Edison's representative Charles Coffin said they had written loopholes into the contract. The loopholes legalized the execution.

Paul attended the execution to document what happened. The execution was badly botched, which horrified people enough to conclude that alternating current was poor at execution and therefore not safe to use. Westinghouse told Paul that a recession had begun and their creditors were going to demand instant repayment which would bankrupt the company. They approached several millionaires for funding and secured barely enough funding to survive. Then, Agnes told Paul she expected to be engaged to her suitor soon and also that Edison's main stakeholder (J.P. Morgan) was diverting potential funds away from the company.

Soon, they began to prepare for bankruptcy. Then, Paul received a telegram from Agnes telling him to come to Tennessee. He arrived to learn that Tesla had built a new laboratory at his father's college, where they went to visit to see Tesla demonstrating a new device which could photograph inside of a leg. Tesla had abandoned work on the light bulb which dismayed Paul.

Paul sought advice from the only person who had successfully sued Edison. Paul and Agnes traveled to Canada to visit Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone and had been defending the patent from Edison ever since. Bell told Paul that it was ultimately not worth the trouble it had become and that he only wished to protect his family and return to inventing. Bell, Paul, and Agnes came to the conclusion that Edison's weakness was in being so focused on the lawsuit. Paul decided to approach the biggest shareholder of Edison's company.

Paul and Agnes attended a New Year party so Paul could negotiate with J.P. Morgan. Morgan told Paul there would be no compromise with Edison in charge. Paul and Morgan arranged a secret meeting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where Morgan revealed that he had placed Fessenden at the Westinghouse company as a spy for Edison. Paul phoned Westinghouse to inform him. Then, he realized that it was better to simply pass on false information. He sent Edison to Chicago to search for Tesla in vain.

Paul told Agnes to bring Tesla back to New York and Paul went to offer Charles Coffin Edison's position at Edison General Electric company. Coffin was to sell his own company then Morgan would merge the Edison and Westinghouse company and install Coffin, to which Coffin insisted they remove Edison's name. Agnes returned with Tesla where they met Paul and Westinghouse. Tesla was shown his new laboratory then Paul convinced Tesla to sign away his future royalties in order to benefit the company, promising that it would pay off later. Agnes was furious about this and told Paul he was taking advantage of Tesla.

Paul and Westinghouse finalized the deal, and Edison appeared asking them not to remove his name. However, they refused. Westinghouse showed sympathy, but Paul could not after all Edison had done. Paul went to an alehouse where he was approached by one of Edison's workers who asked to be installed as vice president . The worker also said that Westinghouse had set fire to Tesla's laboratory. He had not realized Paul and Tesla were there.

Paul traveled to Agnes' house in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He said that their record of stealing the dress had been erased and that he had arranged a better deal for Tesla. Agnes forgave him. Paul and Agnes married soon afterward. They led a happy and fulfilling life together.

Alternating current eventually became the national standard for electricity. Some years later Paul met Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla at a gala in Niagara Falls. They had called a truce. Paul realized that in a way they had all contributed to inventing the light bulb. They parted ways, never to meet again.

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