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Book Nook - 07-11-2016

Monday, November 07, 2016
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com.

Electric Charge
A novel about the fight over the control of electricity sounds dreary, but Graham Moore’s The Last Days Of Night is historical fiction that reads like a thriller.

The book set in 1988, when two great inventors, Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, were fighting to control electricity and waiting to reap the monetary wealth and immense power that would accrue to the man who would win the patent battle the electric bulb.

At the centre of this legal battle is a young lawyer, Paul Cravath, who is hired by Westinghouse to represent him against Edison, mainly because a man so young, raw and eager to make his reputation would not have been corrupted by Edison’s power and popularity. The man – and the electricity generating company that won, would change America, and eventually the world forever.

The legal case, involved the light bulb patented by Edison; Westinghouse invented and manufactured what he claimed was a better bulb. The US patent office had decided that Westinghouse’s bulb violated Edison’s patent, and the latter was was demanding $1 billion in damages. Cravath had to prove that Edison’s suit had no merit, because his bulb was different.

Cravath makes up in persistence what he lacks in experience, and brings into the complicated scenario an eccentric Serbian-born inventor Nikola Tesla.  Edison was offering direct current (DC), which could be transmitted only over short distances; Tesla  worked out the higher-voltage alternating current (AC), which would revolutionize the use of electricity. When he crossed swords with Edison and was persuaded by Cravath to work for Westinghouse, his laboratory mysteriously caught fire.

Edison was not just America’s greatest inventor, he was also ruthless, according to Moore’s very readable book. With a section of the media and politicians in his pocket, he tried to emotionally manipulate the country into rejecting AC current as dangerous enough to kill their children.

The story has other fascinating real-life characters, like the beautiful opera singer Agnes Huntington and her formidable mother.  Paul and Agnes had an unlikely romance and ended up getting married. Names like J.P. Morgan and Alexander Graham Bell make an appearance in the novel. It is rather interesting to read the author’s note at the end, to find out how much is fiction and how much fact.

Running through the book is a thread about the spirit of enterprise that rules America, and the skulduggery that goes into business.  Not even a man of Edison’s eminence was immune to it.
 
The Last Days of Night
By Graham Moore
Published by Scribner
Pages: 400



Excerpt of The Last Days of Night
On the day that he would first meet Thomas Edison, Paul watched a man burn alive in the sky above Broadway.

 The immolation occurred late on a Friday morning. The lunchtime bustle was picking up as Paul descended from his office building onto the crowded street. He cut an imposing figure against the flow of pedestrians: six feet four inches, broad shouldered, clean-shaven, clothed in the matching black coat, vest, and long tie that was to be expected of New York’s young professional men. His hair, perfectly parted on the left, had just begun to recede into a gentle widow’s peak. He looked older than his twenty-six years.

As Paul joined the throng along Broadway, he briefly noticed a young man in a Western Union uniform standing on a ladder. The workman was fiddling with electrical wires, the thick black cables that had recently begun to streak the skies of the city. They criss­crossed the thinner, older telegraph wires, and the spring winds had gusted them into a knotty bundle. The Western Union man was at­tempting to untangle the two sets of wires. He looked like a child flummoxed by enormous shoelaces.

Paul’s mind was on coffee. He was still new to the financial district, new to his law firm’s offices on the third floor of 346 Broadway. He hadn’t determined which of the local coffeehouses he preferred. There was the one to the north, along Walker. And the slower-serving but more fashionable one, on Baxter, with the rooster on the door. Paul was tired. The air felt good against his cheeks. He hadn’t been outside yet that day. He’d slept in his office the night before.

When he saw the first spark, he didn’t immediately realize what was happening. The workman grabbed hold of a wire and tugged. Paul heard a pop—just a quick, strange pop—as the man shuddered. Paul would later remember seeing a flash, even if at the time he wasn’t sure what it was. The workman reached out for support, grasping an­other wire with his free hand. This, Paul would come to understand, was the man’s mistake. He’d created a connection. He’d become a live conductor.

And then both of the workman’s arms jolted with orange sparks.

There had to be two hundred people crowding the street that morning, and every head seemed to turn at the same time. Financiers parading in their wide-brimmed top hats; stock traders’ assistants sprinting down to Wall Street clutching secret messages; social secre­taries in teal skirts and sharp matching jackets; accountants out hunt­ing for sandwiches; ladies in Doucet dresses visiting from Washington Square; local politicians eager for their duck lunches; a fleet of horses dragging thick-wheeled cabs over the uneven cobblestones. Broad­way was the artery that fueled lower Manhattan. A wealth heretofore unknown on the face of the earth was burbling up from beneath these very streets. In the morning’s paper Paul had read that John Jacob Astor had just become officially richer than the Queen of England.

All eyes fixed on the man in the air. A blue flame shot from his mouth. The flame set fire to his hair. His clothes burned off instantly. He fell forward, his arms still wrapped around the wires. His feet dan­gled against the ladder. His body assumed the position of Jesus upon the cross. The blue flame fired through his mouth and melted the skin from his bones.

No one had screamed yet. Paul still wasn’t even sure what he was watching. He had seen violence before. He’d grown up on a Tennes­see farm. Death and the dying were unspectacular sights along the Cumberland River. But he’d never seen anything like this.

 Epochal seconds later, as the man’s blood poured onto the teenage newsboys below, the screaming began. A stampede of bodies fled the scene. Grown men knocked into women. The newsboys ran through the crowd, not heading anywhere in particular, simply running. Try­ing to pull the charred flesh from their hair.

 The horses reared on their haunches, kicking their legs into the sky. Their hooves flew at the faces of their panicked owners. Paul was frozen in place until he saw a newsboy fall in front of the wheels of a two-horse carriage. The stallions shook at their reins, lurching for­ward and drawing the wheels toward the boy’s chest. Paul was not aware of making the decision to lunge—he simply did it. He grabbed the boy by the shoulder, pulling him out of the road.

Paul used his coat sleeve to brush the dirt and blood from the child’s face. But before Paul could check him for injuries, the boy fled into the crowd again.
Paul sat down against a nearby telegraph pole. His stomach churned. He realized he was panting and tried to steady his breath as he rested in the dirt.
 

Also Received
Dr Rakesh Sinha makes a very crucial point in his in his book, The Anatomy of Success-- how lessons learnt in the medical profession can impact success in people’s lives and careers.

According to the synopsis: “How different will people’s lives be if they approach success the same way the medical profession does – as if it were a matter of life and death? What can medicine teach us about beating the odds? In our jobs and our work lives, do we genuinely do the best we can?

Gynecological endoscopic surgeon Dr Rakesh Sinha – a two-time Guinness World Record holder for his surgeries – draws lessons from his own profession to elaborate on success in simple, easy-to-understand steps. In this book, you will discover that success is a combination of three parts: what you’re born with, or Biology; what you learn along the way, or Learning and your deep desire to succeed, or Cognition. You will become an expert in effective visualization techniques to enhance your performance, learn how to take premeditated risks, focus on one task at a time, achieve mastery through deliberate practice and cultivate optimism consciously.  Dr Sinha also shows you how to work with your brain to get you out of your rut. Because success is, quite literally, all in your head. Over and above, The Anatomy of Success reveals that you can be successful despite your genes by chasing victory with the same resolve as doctors do. Because a life does depend on whether you succeed or fail. Yours.”

The Anatomy of Success: Management Lessons From A Surgeon
By Dr Rakesh Sinha
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 212



Rashmi Kumar’s Hooked, Lined and Single is about a thirty-one-year old divorcee, looking for another chance at matrimony. The synopsis says, “If you are a woman in your 30s, and are yet unmarried or deserted or divorced, living in India will make you belong to a category which finds extremely hard to find the right man to just be with. Such women will be labelled as cynical, and acquire disastrously special statuses such as unreasonable or demanding or chronically single or bossy! In this title, one such woman is pleading with God, asking the same question that might be resonating inside the minds of the rest of her kind – “where have I gone wrong?” Alafia Singh is on a similar journey, as she has set out to find a life partner for herself, but by following traditional methods. Will she be successful in her attempts?”

Hooked, Lined and Single
By Rashmi Kumar
Publisher: Srishti
Pages: 188

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