Central to “the current war” is the nature of electricity itself. Edison powers his light bulbs with direct current (D/C) which at that time could not travel more than a few hundred yards from its generator. He holds the patent for light bulbs, and is inundating Westinghouse with paperwork, three hundred twelve separate lawsuits, to drive him out of business. If Westinghouse can devise a different type of light bulb – not necessarily better, but different design – he can win his own patent; if not, he will go bankrupt.
Edison fired Tesla as a nut case four years previously, and Tesla has only just now reappeared on the scene with a new concept of alternating current (A/C) which can travel many miles through wires. He demonstrates his simple generator at a lecture at New York's Columbia University.
The story's leading character, Paul Cravath, has just joined a law partnership in New York. He will soon have two clients. One is George Westinghouse, the other is a twenty-four year old woman, already a celebrity in Europe, Agnes Huntington, now bringing her singing voice and beauty to her native America. She is suing a fraudulent tour-manager for back pay.
Paul, in his role as Westinghouse's counsel, attends Tesla's demonstration. When he sees the audience, mostly electrical engineers, busily taking notes he realizes that this man, scorned by Edison, has something important going, and he recommends that Westinghouse hire Tesla to his engineering staff.
Tesla's strange personality has made him the social amusement of the month for partying young socialites in Manhattan. Paul arranges to meet him socially by asking his client, Miss Huntington, to act as his access to a party where Tesla will be “on exhibit.” She agrees, not because he is her lawyer, but because it will give her an evening's freedom from her mother's close supervision. The meeting is a success, and Tesla invites Paul to tour his laboratory.
Paul's tour of the lab turns into disaster when fire breaks out and he is severely injured when the burning roof falls in on him. He is in the hospital for three months, and Tesla has disappeared again. The New York police suspect arson. Paul believes that he, and perhaps Tesla, are being targeted by Edison's cohorts. Westinghouse's finances grow more endangered with each passing month. Things take a turn for the better when a note arrives from Miss Huntington, urgently summoning Paul to her dressing rooms at the Metropolitan Opera House. Tesla is there; he sought her out as a friend he remembers while he is recovering from the emotional shock of his lab fire.
She agrees that both men may be in danger from some one in Edison's employ, and shelters Tesla in her home (over her mother's objections) where Paul can communicate with Tesla under the guise of his visiting her. As the “current war” heats up, Edison asserts that A/C current is deadly dangerous, and tries to prove it with the invention of the electric chair. Paul, Tesla, and Agnes flee New York for Paul's father's home in Tennessee, where Tesla develops a way of using the new Roentgen rays to produce “shadow pictures” of human bones, giving Westinghouse's factories profitable new vistas to explore.
Author Moore creates a picture of New York City and its denizens where no one trusts anyone else –- no, not even Paul and Miss Huntington–-and where Thomas Edison is forced to retire from his own company, Edison General Electric, whose new owners shorten the name by cutting out the first word. Moore thoughtfully supplies a few pages of research notes at the end of his book, separating fact from fiction. And his revelation of which is which will surprise you.