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Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  1,431 Ratings  ·  211 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 Labor Day hurricane of 1935. Brilliant and driven entrepreneur Henry Flagler’s dream fulfilled, the Ke ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 5th 2003 by Broadway Books (first published 2002)
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Community Reviews

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Sep 28, 2011 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 27, 2012 Nan rated it really liked it
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 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
May 28, 2015 Andie rated it really liked it
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
Aug 06, 2013 Janet rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 21, 2016 Julie rated it really liked it
As a relatively new Floridian, I was amazed driving down the highway through the Keys seeing sections of abandoned trestle bridges in the distance a couple years ago. I thought they were walking paths! Visiting St Augustine a handful of times and catching snippets of tour info I was puzzled about this "Henry Flagler" whose name seemed synonymous with grand architecture and trains. Later I heard about the Breakers and his ties to the founding of Miami. This book does an exemplary job of connectin ...more
Fred Mather
Apr 13, 2016 Fred Mather rated it really liked it
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
K Walker
Jan 21, 2016 K Walker rated it really liked it
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
Dec 25, 2015 Betsy rated it really liked it
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
Seth Kramer
May 12, 2014 Seth Kramer rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 30, 2011 Abby rated it liked it
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.
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
Sep 15, 2015 Robin rated it really liked it
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.
Christian Rodriguez
Sep 05, 2015 Christian Rodriguez rated it it was amazing
Really well written and enjoyable. The story draws you in from the first sentence, and Standiford's prose paints great imagery.
Jan 03, 2014 Julie rated it really liked it
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.
Nicole Schmidt
Oct 23, 2016 Nicole Schmidt rated it really liked it
I think this book should be in our middle and highschools. This is not a boring book, and could open the eyes of students to Florida history through woven stories as It encompasses so many historical celebrations and tragedies that made Florida what it is today. It also connects the time with global issues as well as modern inventions and industry all told in a very interesting way. it would be a perfect stem unit as well.
Jan 24, 2010 Eric_W rated it really liked it
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
Oct 25, 2016 Pat rated it really liked it
A must-read for anyone spending time in Florida. I'd like to recommend this to anyone studying engineering or has dreams of doing something truly remarkable. I can't wait to make the drive to Key West just to see the remains of Henry Flagler's railroad.
Robin Elder
Oct 12, 2016 Robin Elder rated it really liked it
Being a vacation property owner in the Florida Keys, I've become very interested in the history of the small chain of islands. Mr. Standiford's account of the rise of Henry Flagler's Key West railroad and the 1935 Labor Day hurricane that destroyed it, made for a most fascinating read. In fact, it as well as a book called the Storm of the Century by Willie Drye, inspired me to write Vindication Key, a dual timeline historical fiction novella involving the Key West extension, the hurricane, and a ...more
Oct 15, 2016 Diane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three stsrs

I found this book a little long and boring. The author certainly did his research and was very detailed in his writing.
Jun 28, 2009 Krista rated it liked it
I wanted this book to be more but I blame my disappointment not on the book itself but on the fact that I read it directly after finishing Grunwald's fine tome "The Swamp," which blew my little mind. In "Last Train," Standiford tells the story of how Henry Flagler, the financial brains behind Rockefeller's Standard Oil, sunk much of his fortune into developing Florida and building a railroad down the east coast and across the ocean from the mainland to Key West. But having just read "The Swamp," ...more
Oct 01, 2016 Susan rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A quite informative book on the building of Florida with hotels and railroads. Culminates with an attempt to build a railroad to connect the mainland with all the major islands of Key West. Very detailed and factual. It's amazing what the outcome of one man's vision can become until it meets a force of nature bigger than himself.
Oct 28, 2014 Carrie rated it really liked it
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
Don Inman
Sep 07, 2015 Don Inman rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 18, 2011 Trena rated it liked it
Recommended to Trena by: Random browsing in Goodreads
Henry Flagler was the co-founder of Standard Oil, along with John D. Rockefeller. Why have you not heard of him? (Or at least, why had I not heard of him?) Partly because his descendants don't seem to have held onto his wealth, but mostly because he ended up spending most of his money developing Florida. This book tells the story of the building of a railroad from the Florida mainland out to Key West, a route that can today be driven by car as the Overseas Highway, much of which was laid on the ...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
Feb 23, 2016 Jeff rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 25, 2007 Lori rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves the Florida Keys and wants to learn more about them.
I never thought I'd enjoy reading nonfiction so much, but this book, and the one I read previously on the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair have turned out to be two of my favorites. I guess I enjoy history more than I even knew. Plus, both of these books have proven handy when answering questions before my husband does when we are home watching Jeopardy!

Henry Flagler was a visionary. He looked the impossible in the face and succeeded where others thought was nothing but folly. He was a co-owner with J.D
Bill Hall
Mar 29, 2009 Bill Hall rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
"Last Train to Paradise" is popular history at its best. This is the story of an era that is no more--a time when one man with unlimited resources, and more importantly, unlimited vision could accomplish something wondrous. Henry M. Flager, who co-founded Standard Oil with John Rockefeller, left his active role in the company 15 years after its birth to pursue his new passion: building the modern state of Florida. At the heart of this book is Flager's drive to see the Key West Railroad completed ...more
Jan 02, 2012 Winnie rated it really liked it

An amazing story of Henry Flagler and how he got started. He had an 8th grade education and left home at age 14. I lived in Jacksonville, FL for 16 years and about all I knew about Flagler was Flagler College in St. Augustine. I did not know that Flagler was one of the owners of Standard Oil Company with John D. Rockefeller. In fact, Rockefeller after having met Flagler in the 1860s needed capital to invest in his new oil refining venture and he asked Flagler for capital and they became partners
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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
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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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