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

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  1,858 Ratings  ·  262 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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Nov 12, 2011 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
Sep 26, 2011 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
Literary Chic
May 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 28, 2015 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
Tim Martin
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, reviewed
This was a gripping, very fast-reading account of one of the greatest engineering challenges in American history, the construction of the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway. Also known as the Overseas Railroad and for a time derisively as Flagler’s Folly, it was an ambitious project designed to link Key West, Florida with the mainland, some 128 miles away. This book chronicles the initial ideas behind building the railroad, its construction (begun in 1905), its operation (from ...more
May 26, 2015 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
Feb 25, 2013 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
Apr 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
The first chapter hooked me, but then it steadily got worse. The second wasn't much better. I almost stopped reading, but the third chapter started to talk about Flagler, and after a few more pages I decided to stick it out. It was smooth sailing (yikes) until the last two chapters, which makes for a fitting parallel with the beginning, I guess.

Standiford is dramatic. He personifies weather like a Victorian. "And the storm, as if sensing the most vulnerable place to come ashore, had drifted slig
Fred Mather
Apr 13, 2016 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 f
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 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 11, 2015 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
Sep 21, 2016 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
Seth Kramer
May 10, 2014 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 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.
Jan 02, 2016 added it
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 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.
Aug 21, 2015 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
Mar 30, 2014 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.
Dec 26, 2013 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.
Dec 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Great book to read -- for anyone living in Florida!!
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I think of it as "McCullough Lite," that is, a scaled-down version of David McCullough's The Great Bridge or The Path Between the Seas. Although less expansive that either of those volumes, this story is every bit as compelling. By the time he was 70 Flagler had made millions, built hotels. pushed through a law in New York allowing him to divorce his first wife, and established a most comfortable home in Florida. But with the shuffle board courts apparently full, ...more
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it liked it
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
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a genre I typically enjoy, and I admit I didn't have high hopes before I started it. I thought it would be slow-going and dry and was not sure I would finish it. Then I started it ... a very easy read, great pacing, and it really keeps your interest. Interesting subject matter (the keys, railroad, Flagler, the list goes on).

I knew bits and pieces of it all but putting it all together was very interesting. The passages about the hurricanes were heartbreaking. For some reason I had th
Adam Mills
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A gripping account of the construction of the Key West extension to the Florida East Coast Railway at the beginning of the 20th Century from Miami to Key West. The railway opened in 1912 and was dubbed the eighth wonder of the world. Along its stretch is the Long Key Viaduct over 2.5 miles of open ocean and further on the seven mile bridge over open ocean. The railway operated for over 22 years until it was destroyed by the Labor Day hurricane in 1935. The company went bankrupt and it was never ...more
Marty Qualls
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Henry Flagler intrigued me from the beginning of the book to the end. I couldn't figure him out. Always beyond reach. Couldn't be categorized. didn't care to be. Was he an ego maniac? Did he just simply want to leave his mark on this Earth and because he had the means, he did it? Was it love that drove him and his far reaching dreams and plans?
This is a great book to discuss with someone who has also read the book. The answer to, "Who was Henry Flagler" always escaped me...but I had opinions.
May 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
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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...
“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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