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

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  648 ratings  ·  119 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, th...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 5th 2003 by Broadway Books (first published 2002)
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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonThe Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan RawlingsCrazy in Paradise by Deborah  BrownThe Everglades by Marjory Stoneman DouglasDeception in Paradise by Deborah  Brown
Best Books Set in or About Florida
7th out of 125 books — 70 voters
Isaac's Storm by Erik LarsonThe Perfect Storm by Sebastian JungerThe Johnstown Flood by David McCulloughNo One Had a Tongue to Speak by Utpal SandesaraLast Train to Paradise by Les Standiford
Historical Weather Events
5th out of 25 books — 14 voters


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Community Reviews

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Nan
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
Jennifer
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
Janet
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
Abby
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....more
Barb
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
Julie
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.
Seth Kramer
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
Suzanne
Jun 06, 2014 Suzanne rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Eric_W
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
Marsha
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
Jennifer
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...more
Chris
Jun 19, 2012 Chris rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Trena
Jul 18, 2011 Trena rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
Bill Hall
"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
Lori
Nov 25, 2007 Lori rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
Winnie

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...more
Krista
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
Kay
Thoroughly enjoyable account of mogul Henry Flagler's efforts to build a railway all the way down through the Florida Keys, a heroic effort nearly on a par with building the Panama Canal and other feats of notable civic engineering. Flagler was John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil partner, so of course he had huge resources at his disposal. But what becomes evident early on is that Flagler was a visionary, and he had a very clear vision of what he wanted Florida to become. (Florida, for some reaso...more
Tracey
I'd heard bits & pieces of Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad That Crossed an Ocean on The Radio Reader last March [2002]. I sent a recommendation to the local library and got to be the first reader of the copy they purchased.

As noted in the subtitle - the book is a history of Henry Flagler's Florida projects, most notably the construction of the Key West Railroad in the first decade of the 1900's. While there is some biographical backgro...more
John
We learned about Henry Flagler while in St. Augustine. He could be the most forgotten man outside of Florida yet was one the most influential and powerful men in America from 1880 to 1900. He was the partner of John D. Rockefeller and the marketing stratagist behind Standard Oil's rise to become the largest corporation in the country.
After the turn of the century he turned his attention to the development of the east coast of Florida by building his Florida East Coast Railroad from Jacksonville...more
Julie
Yes, you are seeing correctly-I am giving 5 stars to a non-fiction. I picked this book up on a recent trip to St. Augustine because I wanted to learn more about Henry Flagler, the man who co-founded Standard Oil with John Rockefeller, built fabulous hotels along the Florida coast and, oh yeah, built a railroad from Jacksonville to Key West. This book mostly tells the story of the latter, and I found myself fascinated by the idea, the hard work and heartbreak that went into the project, the hurri...more
Seth
May 17, 2009 Seth rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Florida vacationers
Recommended to Seth by: Amazon Vine
One of the first things I came across was all the praise surrounding this book. On the back of the cover and inside as well are many accounts of praise from notable figures and newspapers. What caught my eye was Donald Trump's words, "A fascinating and incredibly compelling account...I could not put it down." Not that a man can't read what he wants, but I found it interesting that Donald was fascinated by this book centered on a railroad.

Praise is much deserved for Les Standiford's Last Train to...more
Karen
This is a nonfiction account about Henry Flagler who used the money he made co-running Standard Oil with JD Rockefeller to build a railroad, hotels & amenities along the eastern coast of Florida. It focused on the extention of the railway to Key West & its destruction by the Hurricane of 1935. I enjoyed this book.....even the technical aspects of overcoming the problems of the railway building I found fascinating. I highly recommend.
Mary Sue
Thought I was buying a biography of Henry Flagler. It is but only secondary to the biography of the railroad he built from Jacksonville to Key West. Very interesting read balancing history and culture with climate and the phenomena called hurricanes. I bought this at the mansion, now museum Whitehall in Palm Beach. Both were well worth the price if admission.
Susan
This is an interesting book, although it is so laden with facts that I was worn down and out upon completion of reading. Henry Flagler was an ambitious dreamer, a man with the wherewithal to make it happen. His vision and obsession was to build a railroad to connect Key West to the Florida mainland, and though thrice married Flagler was faced with obstacle after obstacle, he was able to accomplish his goal--somewhat. For twenty two years the railways were testament to Flagler's tenacity and the...more
Bob Mckinstry
If you have spent any time in South Florida or the Keys, you'll love this book. From the Gilded Age to the Great Depression, you'll follow the passion of one of the lesser know Robber Barons as he builds his train to Key West only to have it washed away by the awesome power of Mother Nature.
Greer Mulholland
Fascinating account of Henry Flagler's über-ambitious dream to connect Key West to Miami via the Key West Extension to the Florida East Coast Railway. Of course, he built that too, along with the cities of West Palm Beach and Miami and lots of fancy hotels which exist today.
Renee
I totally enjoyed this book. It was an easy and interesting read. I knew of Henry Flagler having grown up near West Palm Beach and visiting his home (museum) in Palm Beach but I did not know the extent of his works especially in the East Coast of Florida. Building the railroad to the keys was such a daunting enterprise. It seemed as though mother nature did not want this done and in the end mother nature won. This book describes how they built the seven mile bridge which was amazing and also des...more
Melissa
When I heard about this book, I had to read it. I couldn't believe that someone would have such an astonishing dream - to build a railroad across the sea - over 100 years ago. The book did not disappoint. I enjoyed hearing about Henry Flagler's life and his projects of building resorts in Florida as well as the railroad along the Florida Keys. The obstacles that had to be overcome were many - surely many more than he had counted on. The work was hard, the mosquitoes were fierce, and the hurrican...more
Susan
I was on vacation in palm beach and had a tour of our hotel >Flag The Breakers. I had never heard of Henry Flagler and i wanted to know more about the man and the railroad across the ocean.

I enjoyed reading the connection Henry had with Rockefeller and Standard Oil. The making of the railroad sometimes had a bit too much detail but it lent to the history and color of the story.It detailed the making and people who helped build this railroad to connect the Fla. islands in the early to mid 1800...more
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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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