What is genius? High IQ, creative thinking outside “the box,” productivity? How do you know a genius when you meet one? These are the things I thought about as I was introduced to the Current War of the late 1800’s, and the men who fought in it: Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, JP Morgan, and the protagonist of this story, Paul Cravath. The war was about electric current: alternating and direct. On the direct current side was Thomas Edison, who had already established supremacy by building direct current generators in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Edison had a powerful network of supporters, including the ruthless banker and financier, JP Morgan. On the opposing side, George Westinghouse, his lawyer, Paul Cravath, and Nikola Tesla fought for alternating current, which they believed to be the superior form of eletricity to power cities and towns, if they could just solve the high voltage problem that made A/C current potentially dangerous. Among the impulses that drove these men were greed, legacy, the desire to create a superior product, inventing ways to solve technological problems, and love. Their story was a gripping tale, beautifully crafted, with just enough science to help someone with a deficit in that area, care about how an electric motor works.
The Beauty: The author, Graham Moore, began each chapter with a quote from scientists like Neil De Grasse Tyson, Karl Popper, Charles Kettering, and Alexander Graham Bell, that captured the essence of that particular chapter. My favorite prefaced chapter 17, “The Visitor:”
“High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.” – Charles Kettering
The visitor was Agnes Huntington, an acclaimed singer with the Metropolitan Opera, and the high expectations of the quote work in multiple ways in this chapter. I love the quote because it’s true about all the important endeavors in life, from school to relationships, to profession, to parenthood.
The Food: Nikola Tesla, although austere in his personal habits, developed an affection for the famed Delmonico’s Restaurant in lower Manhattan, where he was wined and dined on numerous occasions in the hope that the extravagant food would encourage him to agree to whatever his host offered for a business proposition. Delmonico’s signature dish was Lobster Newburg, pictured below. I would add more lobster next time, but it was delicious.
2 tsp butter
1 T all-purpose flour
1 ½ C milk
2 beaten egg yolks
8 ounces cubed, cooked lobsters
2 T dry sherry
⅛ tsp of white or black pepper
1 dash ground red pepper
2 puff pastry cups
snipped fresh chives (optional)
In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour and salt. Add the milk all at once. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly.
Stir about half the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Return all to saucepan.
Cook and stir until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Stir in lobster, dry sherry, white or black pepper, and ground red pepper.
Heat through. Serve in cooled puff pastry cups.
Garnish with snipped chives.