The great tech innovators of the '90s—that’s the 1890s—posture, plot, and even plan murder in this business book–turned–costume drama.
In the late 19th century, as Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse began wiring America for electricity, the titans locked horns over which electrical standard would prevail—AC or DC—in a struggle that came to be known as the “War of the Currents.” Novelist (The Sherlockian, 2010) and screenwriter (The Imitation Game, 2014) Moore chops up and rearranges a decade’s worth of events, squeezes them into two years, adds a few crimes, and serves the result up in a lively if unsurprising legal thriller. He tells the story from the point of view of Paul Cravath, the young attorney charged with defending Westinghouse against a potentially devastating patent suit brought by Edison. The key to winning, Cravath decides, is to get Nikola Tesla—the mad scientist to end all mad scientists—to invent a better lightbulb. Subtle this isn’t. A devastating lab fire! An inexplicable disappearance! A beautiful diva with a mysterious past! An attempted murder! An electrocuted dog! The characters mug and posture like actors in a silent film with dramatic captions: “She turned her glare to Westinghouse. 'You’re a co-conspirator in this villainy?' " Tesla, a Serbian, talks funny: “My accent is wide. Perhaps you have been noticing.” Eventually, inspired by the innovative business practices of Westinghouse and Edison, Cravath invents the 20th-century law firm and wins the hand of the lady.
The real-life events of the War of the Currents are exciting enough without embroidery. Still, readers who care more about atmosphere than accuracy will enjoy this breezy melodrama.