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

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  1,532 Ratings  ·  222 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
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published 2002 by Crown
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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
May 26, 2015 Gerry rated it really liked it
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
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
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
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
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
Dec 07, 2016 Deborah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Great book to read -- for anyone living in Florida!!
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.
Mary Freshley
Jan 21, 2017 Mary Freshley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-books
I would especially recommend this book to anyone driving to the Florida Keys. I'm glad I finished it before we approached the 7-mile bridge: you can see part of the the old Key West Railroad Extension still standing & walk on part of it. I appreciated Henry Flagler's vision and the immense effort, triumph & tragedy of this "railroad that crossed the ocean" much more than my last visit because of Standiford's work. Of course, it's not necessary to visit Key West to enjoy this book; it was ...more
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.
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
Jan 23, 2017 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another truly interesting history of Florida that needs to be read by anyone with ties to the state. Great insight on the robber baron era.
Feb 15, 2017 Rose rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a fascinating read! I listened to this book in the car on a road trip and it made the miles fly by!
Sharon Rose
Feb 17, 2017 Sharon Rose rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Will read first then review

Want to read book first, then will review. Went to see the bridge, fascinating. Can't wait to learn more about it.
Feb 05, 2017 Hope rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A slow read but interesting to learn about Flagler and his attempt to build a railroad to Key West.
Robin Elder
Oct 12, 2016 Robin Elder rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 08, 2017 Bradford rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am a Keys fanatic and found this surprisingly well written, historically informative and enlightening in terms of the well lived life of Henry Flagler.
Jun 15, 2009 Krista rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 27, 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
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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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