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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean » User review

A story of daring, imagination, determination and engineering "can do"

  • Jan 16, 2009
Rating:
+5
Most American children grow up hearing stories about the great engineering projects such as the Hoover dam, the Panama Canal, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the transcontinental railroad. Unfortunately, until I read this book, I had never heard the full story of the construction of the Key West Railroad. In many ways, it is one of the most challenging engineering projects ever done.
It is difficult for the modern reader to understand how little was known about swampy south Florida at the end of the nineteenth century. There is no better example of this than the aptly named Lake Surprise in the southern end of the state. It acquired that name when a survey team trying to determine the route for the railroad to take from Miami to Key Largo was surprised when they encountered a lake. The project was so monumental that after it was finished there was the belief that the railroad bed was blocking the flow of water between that Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and dramatically altering the climate of Great Britain.
The railroad was the brainchild of Henry Flagler, who made his fortune with John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Company. No less a personality than Rockefeller himself gave Flagler the credit for making the business decisions that made Standard Oil such a success.
This account of Flagler's life, how he acquired this vision and what became of it is a gripping one, it goes back to a time when some people really thought big when it came to building things. While there was the possibility of a large amount of freight being moved from Key West up the east coast of Florida, Flagler was talented enough in the area of business to understand that major profits were not likely. Yet he forged ahead and was able to take a railroad trip all the way to Key West before he died.
Another major and educational point about the book is the can-do attitude if the engineers who solved the major physical hurdles of the project. They said that it could be done and then went about inventing the techniques used to build the railroad. At some points, the bridges had to be miles in length and even when there was land, there wasn't much of it.
Unfortunately, the most powerful hurricane to ever make landfall in the United States destroyed a great deal of the railroad in 1935 and it was never rebuilt. In the past two decades, the United States has experienced the fury of Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina, where both left incredible devastation. Yet, weather historians have been able to reach the conclusion that the hurricane of 1935 was significantly more powerful than either of them. The accounts of people having boards driven through their bodies and being tossed around by winds of over 200 miles per hour give one pause at the power of the storm.
There is a cliché that the most unusual of nonfiction would be considered the most unrealistic of fiction if it could possibly be denied. This is such an example, a railroad was built where none was thought possible and it was destroyed by a storm with power that no one thought possible. Henry Flagler was eccentric, brilliant, imaginative and stubborn and this is the amazing story of what happened when he told his engineers, "Build it."

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More Last Train to Paradise: Henry ... reviews
review by . December 03, 2008
History of the railroad to Key West. The idea and execution was wrapped up in the extraordinary life of Henry Flagler, who helped Rockefeller create Standard Oil, then developed an abiding love and obligation to Florida. He built a railroad and a string of resorts that turned the mosquito-ridden swamps of Florida's east coast into valuable real estate and the nation's Southern escape. The effort cost him a big chunk of his fortune, but created a state.
review by . May 07, 2009
As a South Floridian, perhaps I am predisposed to be interested in this book. However, I think any lover of history and literature will find this an entertaining read. At times it reads more like novel than a historical account.      Les Standiford tells the fascinating story about Henry Flagler's impropable dream to build a railroad over the ocean. Deemed "one of the most difficult works of railroad construction ever attempted" by Scientific America, Flagler, with his signature …
review by . March 13, 2009
As a South Floridian, perhaps I am predisposed to be interested in this book. However, I think any lover of history and literature will find this an entertaining read. At times it reads more like novel than a historical account.    Les Standiford tells the fascinating story about Henry Flagler's impropable dream to build a railroad over the ocean. Deemed "one of the most difficult works of railroad construction ever attempted" by Scientific America, Flagler, with his signature …
review by . February 01, 2009
Having an interest in Florida history, I saw this book at the library and had to pick it up... Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean by Les Standiford. The Key West railroad was a fascinating concept to begin with... building a railroad line from Miami to Key West, spanning miles of ocean in the process. Set the whole project at the turn of the century, and it becomes even more incredible. And to watch it all get destroyed by …
review by . January 26, 2009
Henry Flagler was a rich man when he more or less discovered Florida in 1877. Born in 1830, Flagler was one of the three founders of Standard Oil. He was lured to Jacksonville, Florida in hopes it might help his wife to recover her health. In 1883, Flagler became interested in Florida hotels - and a second career was launched by this immensely rich 53 year old man.     Les Standiford tells this tale well. Flagler, always a man solely focused on business, built hotels to lure …
review by . January 21, 2009
7 mile train
Les Standiford is the author of several critically acclaimed novels as well as several works of non-fiction.   A few years back I had the distinct pleasure of reading one of those non-fiction titles. " Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America" was one of the best books I read back in 2005.   And so when I happened upon a copy of  "Last Train To Paradise:  Henry Flagler and the Spectacular …
review by . October 03, 2003
Ten years ago, when I visited Palm Beach, Florida, I noticed a lot of places named after someone called Flagler. At the time I had no idea who this person was, or why everything in the area seemed focused upon him, but after reading this book, I understand. It's pretty clear that, without Henry Flagler's vision, and money, Florida today might be an entirely different place. This man, almost singlehandedly, changed Florida from a hot, sleepy area into a mecca for tourists. His building of luxury …
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Charles Ashbacher ()
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Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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In Last Train to Paradise, novelist Les Standiford has written a lively, felicitous account of the building of the Florida East Coast Railway, which, for a little over two decades, connected mainland Florida with Key West. Henry Morrison Flagler, John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil partner and, in many eyes, the true genius behind that company, embarked on the project in 1905 when he was 74 years old. The railroad, which crossed more than 150 miles of open sea, was an engineering feat nearly equal in scale and difficulty to the digging of the Panama Canal. Standiford's narrative skillfully blends tales of construction perils (not the least of which were escadrilles of mosquitoes) with brief, illuminating travelogues and natural histories, pocket descriptions of life in early 20th-century Florida, and a truly gripping description of an epic standoff between Mother Nature, in the form of a monstrous hurricane, and a stalled, 160-ton steam locomotive. With nary a single missed note, this fascinating tale is popular history at its best.--H. O'Billovich
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Tags

Books, Nonfiction, Railroads, Business History, Key West, Henry Flagler, Florida History

Details

ISBN-10: 1400049474
ISBN-13: 978-1400049479
Author: Les Standiford
Genre: History
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Date Published: August 5, 2003
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