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

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  1,638 Ratings  ·  238 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 Flagle
Kindle Edition
Published (first published 2002)
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Sep 26, 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
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
Literary Chic
May 04, 2017 Literary Chic rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating! This was my audiobook recently. It focused mainly on Flager's later life (post Standard Oil.) He split from Rockefeller and spent his senior years building Florida. After reading this book, I'm amazed at how basically one mans work developed the entire eastern coast of Florida....and he did this during his "retirement."

***There was a nice Louisville tie-in. Flager's widow (Mary Lily) was 37 years his junior and remarried after Flager's death. She married Robert Worth Bingham of Lou
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  ·  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
Feb 25, 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
Apr 24, 2017 Cece rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Picked up my copy while visiting my daughter who goes to school at Flagler College. While I have learned many things about Flagler, learning the railroad portion was quite fascinating. The storyline did drag a little at times which would be more of a 3 star rating, the sheer characterization of Flagler and learning all I did inspired me to give it a 4 star rating. Great and educational read.
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 f
Feb 16, 2016 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 Flagler's obsession to extend his Florida East Coast Railroad to Key West. Building the line across the Florida marsh and Keys, including a seven
K Walker
Nov 06, 2015 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
Dec 11, 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
Sep 21, 2016 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Seth Kramer
May 10, 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
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.
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
Nicole Schmidt
Oct 23, 2016 Nicole Schmidt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 21, 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.
Christian Rodriguez
Really well written and enjoyable. The story draws you in from the first sentence, and Standiford's prose paints great imagery.
Dec 26, 2013 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.
Dec 07, 2016 Deborah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Great book to read -- for anyone living in Florida!!
May 17, 2017 Graceann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
From the ages of nine through fourteen, I was taken to the Florida Keys every winter, and home-schooled there so that we could enjoy my dad's winter layoff in warmer weather. It's a time I look back on now with such fond memories. Wherever we went, we heard the name Flagler, and the remnants of his railroad to Key West were still prominent local sites (they may still be; I haven't been to the Keys since 1982, sadly). That's what I brought to my reading of this book – my memories of beautiful, su ...more
This is an excellent book about a big slice of Florida history... the role of Henry Flagler in starting the development along Florida's east coast, with the biggest focus on the railroad to Key West. It is part biography and part history, as it outlines Flagler's life and career before focusing on Flagler's later years and the construction of rails.

In the 1880's, after building a fortune with John D Rockefeller in Standard Oil, Flagler turned his attention to Florida and starting in Jacksonville
Mar 21, 2017 Scott rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Last Train to Paradise by Les Standiford is the true story of Henry Flagler and his great railroad adventure. From 1905 to 1912 Flagler built a rail line linking Jacksonville to Miami (366 miles) and from Miami to Key West. (156 miles) It is a grand story of the gilded age of American industrial greatness. Flagler, who was a Standard Oil executive, spent his personal fortune to construct the rail line. At the time, Key West was Florida’s largest city and was accessible only by boat. The story is ...more
May 13, 2017 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book fascinating and hard to put down. It tells the story of Henry Flagler and his development of Florida. As the 1900s started, Florida's Atlantic coastal cities did not exist. It was Flagler who created them, the resorts we know today. His greatest goal was to extend the Florida East Coast Railway all the way down the Atlantic coast to Key West connecting all the keys to the mainland. An unimaginable undertaking which he would accomplish. However, there is always mother nature and ...more
May 07, 2017 Cindy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While a bit much of the technical part of things, it was a good read for me. One has to admire Mr. Flagler's determination to connect our country to Cuba despite those who mocked him and the physical challenges Mother Nature presented. (Forgive the mini sermon, but few would persevere as he did with the men who worked on this massive endeavor.)
Today we know little of our history and those who made it, while it was difficult to read about the loss of life, it just shows how our great country was
May 28, 2017 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating history of the Florida East Coast Railway! Standiford grabbed my attention on page one with Hemingway's whereabouts on Labor Day Weekend, 1935. Starting the book with the "End of the Line" (end of the story), surprisingly made me want to read more about how the "Eighth Wonder of the World" came to be. I must say, however, I have mixed feelings about making the trip to Key West after reading this account!
Bonnie Gross
If you don't know the story of Henry Flagler over the Overseas Railroad, I recommend this book as a good way to learn about Florida's fascinating history. I've been to most of the Flagler-related sites in Florida mentioned in the book and there wasn't much new here for me. Standiford does a competent and professional job in writing the tale.
May 25, 2017 Dawn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having just made the drive down The Keys and back, this was particularly fascinating.
As a transplant, I know so little about Florida history. And although I see Flagler's name on streets everywhere and knew that he was the East Coast Railway guy - I knew very little about the struggle to build the path to Key West. This is definitely worth the read/listen.
Nov 15, 2008 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
Sybil Johnson
May 21, 2017 Sybil Johnson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book about Flagler and the construction of the railroad through the Florida Keys. It really gives you a feeling for the man and the history of Florida as well as how hard it was to build the railroad.
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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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