Friday, November 29, 2019

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

The Last Days of NightThe Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Last year I read Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla and while it was a bit long, and overly technical at some points, it was interesting and stayed with me. My wife read this book for a book club, which reviews some of the same events with the same people, and as we discussed our different perspectives I was often confused by the major differences between the two historical accounts. Then the day came when my wife was chosen to pick a book for the one book club we share (she is in 5 book clubs to my 1) and of course she picks this book.

The picture this book paints of Tesla did not at all match what I knew of him from my previous read. The further I got into it, I knew one thing. One of these books was materially misrepresenting the man, and likely other characters as well, and was not to be trusted.

I made it to the end of this book with a bunch of questions waiting to be asked, and then found the author's note at the end. The one where he enumerates what was fact vs fiction in the book. I was shocked. I didn't realize this was supposed to be a work of fiction. The characters were real people, in a real historically significant event, in real places. He just made up the stuff they said and did, which misrepresents, oh, just about everything. The few facts he randomly strung throughout this narrative were so out of context that they shouldn't be trusted.

This is a great example of how not to write a historical fiction. The reader needs to know up front that it is fiction. Either the character, setting, or plot need to be completely fictional. Then one of those other elements should be as accurate to reality a possible. Most commonly the setting is the historically accurate part, leaving the characters available to be fictionalized, with the plot somewhere in between (Les Miserables?). Or you could have a real character in such a fantastic, outlandish plot that the reader knows fact from fiction (Abraham Lincoln obviously did not spend his time hunting vampires.) Last Days of Night, however, doesn't do this. It's attempt to put real people in real settings, and in plausible plots confuses the reader and misrepresents history. Why not do the rest of the research and just write a history, instead of this full dramatization? State your assumptions and unknowns as you go, in the text of the book, rather than stuffing them at the back of the book where many readers won't bother to read them.

Outside of my chief complaint, I can say that the book is well written and if you sort through the end notes and can separate fact from fiction, there are some good insights into the events covered. But the damage is done. Even with these bright points, I can't recommend this book. It is like propaganda for an unknown cause. Go read Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, or any of the others that Moore cites as sources instead. Don't waste your time on fake history.

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