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Last Train to Paradise

3.93  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,308 Ratings  ·  194 Reviews
Last Train to Paradise is acclaimed novelist Les Standiford’s fast-paced and gripping true account of the extraordinary construction and spectacular demise of the Key West Railroad—one of the greatest engineering feats ever undertaken, destroyed in one fell swoop by the strongest storm ever to hit U.S. shores.

In 1904, the brilliant and driven entrepreneur Henry Flagler, p
Audio, 0 pages
Published May 13th 2002 by Random House Audio (first published 2002)
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If you're going to read one book about the building -- and destruction, less than three decades later -- of the Overseas Railway, this is the book to read. January 2012 will be the Centennial of the completion of the railroad, which transformed the Florida Keys from an isolated island chain into an artificial peninsula, an extension of South Florida. Only a determined and extraordinarily wealthy man like Henry Flagler -- one of the original partners in Standard Oil -- could have seen the project ...more
May 28, 2015 Andie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As Carl Hiaasem talks about in his comic thrillers, Florida has long been home to disreputable developers, business shysters and other unsavory characters who have raped the lush landscape of the state for fun and profit, and no one's name is more connected to Florida's notorious business practices than Henry Flager who not only built a hotel empire in Florida and almost single-handedly built Miami and Palm Beach, but also built an improbably railroads line from Miami to Key West.

Flagler who was
May 26, 2015 Gerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a multi-millionaire and a major shareholder in Standard Oil, one could be forgiven for thinking that the aging Henry Flagler need do nothing else during the remainder of his life. But that would not have suited this remarkable, all-action man.

He had a vision of developing Florida and then providing a railroad across the Florida Keys to facilitate communications with Cuba and provide quicker access for the Keys, which previously were reached by ship. He was successful in providing hotels and o
Sep 28, 2011 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This audiobook gets my biggest compliment: I will be listening to it again! It's full of interesting facts about Florida history that go far beyond the railroad (including lots of information about Hurricane Andrew). Since I live in the Keys, I especially enjoyed hearing about life here when the islands were only accessible by boat. The endearing tales of Flagler's ups and downs throughout his career and three marriages will keep your attention, as well as seldom-heard histories of others involv ...more
Aug 06, 2013 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! Reading this book I was perpetually inspired by the resolve of Henry Flagler and the engineers he employed. I wish engineers were routinely so daring and visionary now! At no point did I find the book to drag. Rather, it just seemed to move more quickly in some places than others. Some of the descriptions of events leading to the development of the project as well as it's eventual destruction are done so well that I could just see it despite having never been to the Florida Keys. Great read ...more
Dec 25, 2015 Betsy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Terrific book about Henry Flagler who was determined to build a railroad from Miami to Key West in the early part of the 20th century. A self-made man, Flagler made his fortune as a partner in Standard Oil, but when he discovered the warm climate and endless possibilities of Florida, he used his millions to finance the Florida East Coast Railway. Eventually, he decided to extend it to Key West despite the fact that much of the trackwork would have to be built over the ocean utilizing huge bridge ...more
K Walker
Jan 21, 2016 K Walker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a native of Florida, I of course recognize the name of Henry Flagler. However, our state history never really delved into his impact on the state as a whole. I have spent a lot of time in St. Augustine and have been inside, but never stayed in, the two hotels he built there. I didn't know he was a partner to John D. Rockefeller in the establishment and success of Standard Oil. This is where Flagler made his millions and the future he spent building up the state's east coast. His vision of a r ...more
James Jarvie
Very interesting and enjoyable. A clear picture of Henry Flagler and those working for him; this book allows the reader to envision the challenges, successes and tragedies involved in this endeavor. The early 20th century was an era filled with the realization of grandiose dreams and Flagler's dream of linking the Keys to the Florida mainland ranks as one of the grandest. The description of the hurricanes were especially interesting - and terrifying; and I liked the way the book began and ended ...more
Seth Kramer
May 12, 2014 Seth Kramer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Standiford is a novel writer, and it shows. His tale of the Guilded Age industrialist-cum-hotelier Henry Flagler's quixotic plan to connect Key West, Florida's then biggest city, with the rest of the eastern seaboard via a railroad over vast expanses of open water, and it's subsequent catastrophic failure after one of the most powerful hurricanes in American history leaves the reader with no small amount of anticipation. As one familiar with the Overseas Railroad and Highway I found myself simul ...more
Fred Mather
Apr 13, 2016 Fred Mather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The purchase of this book follows a visit to the Flagler Museium in Palm Beach. The story of Henry Flagler parallels the development of Florida just over a century ago.

The building of Key West Extension of the Florida East Coastal . This is railway line built between 1905 to 1912 to link Miami to Key West. It was an overly ambitious and expensive project that had many justified naysayers. Henry Flagler poured a lot of his personal fortune into to it in order to see it completed. If is wasn't for
Don Inman
Sep 07, 2015 Don Inman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If there is such a thing as the indomitable American spirit it existed in spades in Henry Flagler. Robber baron or visionary, take your pick. After amassing a fortune with John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil Flagler turned his sights to the state of Florida. He built lavish resorts and homes all down the east coast of Florida each one out shinning the last. Then he wanted to build a railroad. But not just any railroad. His railroad would allow people to board one of the well appointed sleepers o ...more
Jun 30, 2011 Abby rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you want to learn the history of Florida and, particularly, the monumental feat of building a railroad across the sea from Miami to Key West, this is your book. Standiford does well telling this story and bringing Henry Flagler, the man who turned Florida into a tourist mecca, to life. The book is also about a great hurricane that hit the Keys in the 1930s, but it's almost an afterthought. The real story here is about Flagler and the trials of building a railroad that no one thought possible.
Sep 15, 2015 Robin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great non-fiction book about tycoon Henry Flagler, who had a vision and enough resources to make it happen. Against all odds, he built a railroad to Key West. There's an interesting section about Ernest Hemingway in the 1935 hurricane.
Feb 23, 2016 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is from an older blog of mine focusing on train literature.

Les Standiford, Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2002).

What could be a better combination for a good read than a visionary, a seemingly impossible obstacle, trains, a hurricane and Papa Hemingway? Last Train to Paradise tells the story of Henry Flaglerâs obsession to extend his Florida East Coast Railroad to Key West. Buildi
Jun 01, 2015 Dennis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I was recommended LAST TRAIN TO PARADISE, the true story of Henry Flagler and his decision to build a railroad from the Florida mainland to Key West, dubbed the train to cross an ocean, I was intrigued. I recognized the name by his association with John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Company. I was unaware of his love affair with Florida or indeed his personal life, and least of all that there was a railroad that ran from Miami to Key West for about 22 years. Remember, the era we are t ...more
May 21, 2014 Barb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting story on Henry Flagler - a partial biography, but focused on his development of the Florida East Coast Railway through the Florida Keys. Many do not know that Flagler was a co-founder of Standard Oil with Rockefeller. That was the source of his great fortune, a large part of which - $30 million - he dedicated to his passionate dream to build a railroad that would go all the way to Key West. It was a formidable job, taking 7 years and hundreds of workers, and many were los ...more
Dec 29, 2014 Dana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history
I'd never heard of Henry Flagler who was a cofounder of Standard Oil along with Rockefeller. But, Flagler spent a lot of his money developing Florida - from cities and hotels to railroads. One of his greatest feats was building a railroad that connected the tip of Florida to Key West... 156 miles or track with much of it being over water! Most people thought it couldn't be done. And, the weather sure didn't cooperate!

Although I felt the book lagged a bit in the middle, over all this is an exciti
Jan 03, 2014 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting history about how southern Florida came to be what it is today, especially the Keys. Add enough money ($$$$$) to vision and anything is possible.
Joyce Vorbach
Nov 17, 2015 Joyce Vorbach rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Many places I've lived in were beneficiaries of the same clique of 20th century capitalists. I grew up in a little town called Spring Lake, NJ and was married and attended St. Catharine Church, a beautiful replica of St. Paul's in Rome. It was built by Martin Maloney, a Standard Oil executive, and a protege of John D. Rockefeller. As a current resident of Southwest Florida the Florida Keys are close enough for getaways. The impressive engineering that went into creating the Overseas Highway and ...more
Christian Rodriguez
Really well written and enjoyable. The story draws you in from the first sentence, and Standiford's prose paints great imagery.
Jun 06, 2014 Suzanne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Suzanne by: Mayor Susan Haynie
Last train to Paradise is a fascinating history of the construction of the railroad Henery Flagler built, connecting the keys to the rest of Florida. I found Les Standiford to be a wonderful writer and look forward to finding more of his work. He really brought to life Henery Flagler and caused me to develop a lot of respect for this man's remarkable character. I now know where a lot of our street names came from. More importantly I have a better understanding of the sacrifices that were made to ...more
Jul 26, 2015 Caroline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are interested in reading about the construction of a railroad and the unfortunate destruction of a railroad, this is a book for you! Henry Flagler, an equal to Rockefeller in Standard Oil wealth, used his personal fortune to build the Overseas Railway from Miami to Key West.
Imagine a rail line running seven miles over open seas! Despite South Florida hurricanes and more than difficult environmental building conditions, the Overseas Railway line was built.
This is an extraordinary accoun
Feb 10, 2016 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent book. Very easy to read and it was very similar to Erik Larson's "Issac's Storm". Very sad and tragic but it was also very motivating reading about one of the earlier less known entrepreneurial leaders in our county.I really enjoyed how Ernest Hemingway had a small supporting roll in this book. I Learned a lot about the earlier history of Florida. Flagler was an exciting person to read about and I had no idea how much he has done for this state. I recommend it to all of my ...more
Feb 11, 2016 VerJean rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I truly enjoy the non-fiction books - looking more in-depth at the people and facts behind some of the lesser known "stories". I had picked up this book several years ago, amazed at not having known about the railroad to The Keys. Well, I had not yet made that "jaunt" to KeyWest via auto travel, so it simply hadn't occurred to me. THEN - we were in south Florida - "Oh, we're this far, why not drive all the way down to Key West?" Ah ha - that book, I hadn't read yet . . . . Checking email along t ...more
Josh Liller
I read this book at least a decade ago and reread it this month for a Florida book club. Interestingly, my opinion of the book did not change from them until now, but I can now better explain my opinion of the book.

This book is the story of Henry Flagler and the Overseas Railroad (through the Florida Keys). The first quarter of the book is mostly a condensed biography of Flagler and the actual construction of the railroad - considered an engineering marvel - takes up about half the book. The Ove
Oct 28, 2014 Carrie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
I want to give this book 4.25 stars, but since that is not an option, I am rounding down to 4. I had a few issues with the book, but it was still a very interesting and (mostly) captivating book about a subject that could otherwise be dry. The book has a brisk pace and isn't very long. It is also truly focused on Henry Flagler's railroad to Key West. The book gave background information on Flagler, his life, his tenure at Standard Oil, and his dealings up to the point of deciding to embark on th ...more
Jan 24, 2010 Eric_W rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Frankly, I have no idea how I ran across this very interesting book. Henry Flagler, one of the last great industrialists and oil barons, built a railroad across the Florida Keys, a feat that had been considered impossible, in order to capitalize on the proximity of Cuba to the nascent Panama Canal. He had already virtually built the state of Florida by buying and developing land all along the east coast, then linking his hotel properties via rail. His Key West Railroad, an extension of the Flori ...more
Apr 03, 2013 Marsha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book while on vacation in the Florida Keys after I visited a museum of the Keys in Key West. The idea of constructing a railway through the Keys was so extraordinary that I had to know more. Les Standford, a resident of the Keys, imbued the toil of digging a railway and building bridges in the threat of heat, bugs and hurricanes in this story of the vision of a rich man who refused to say that his dream was impossible. Thankfully, he chose the right people to help his dream come ...more
This was an easy, informative read. I've always wanted to read about Henry Flagler since my first, of many, trips to the Keys and St. Augustine. In particular, I've always been interested in the story of his second marriage to the wife who supposedly went nuts.
This book didn't sensationalize anything, which is ok by me. On the whole, the emotion of the book was pretty flat except for the stories about the hurricane of 1935 and its devastation. Because of the personal stories in that portion, I t
Jun 19, 2012 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs, Floridians, meteorologists, weather geeks, storm survivors, railroad tycoons
Recommended to Chris by: Palm Beach County Public Library
This historical book was interesting, even gripping at times, and highly readable. I love non-fiction that reads like fiction and this fits that category.

It was a great look at the man -- Henry Flagler. I knew a little about him, and his works in Florida, but I didn't know about his role in Standard Oil and I had no idea he was so wealthy and powerful in his time. The author portrays him as a visionary and it felt accurate.

This is also a great "storm story". The sections of the book that describ
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Les Standiford is a historian and author and has since 1985 been the Director of the Florida International University Creative Writing Program. Standiford has been awarded the Frank O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, a Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in Fiction, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and belongs to the Associated Writing Programs, Mystery Writers of Ameri ...more
More about Les Standiford...

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“Permanent construction of the sort Flagler was referring to would not come cheaply, however. Early in 1910, Flagler wrote to John Carrere, designer of the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine, that repairing the damage caused by the hurricane had actually cost him $1 million, and reiterated that it had taught him a valuable lesson about upgrading the quality of the work. He estimated that it would require at least another $9 million to push the track to Key West, a figure that did not include the costs of a terminal and docking facilities.” 0 likes
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