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Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean Paperback – August 5, 2003
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In 1904, the brilliant and driven entrepreneur Henry Flagler, partner to John D. Rockefeller, dreamed of a railway connecting the island of Key West to the Florida mainland, crossing a staggering 153 miles of open ocean—an engineering challenge beyond even that of the Panama Canal. Many considered the project impossible, but build it they did. The railroad stood as a magnificent achievement for more than twenty-two years, heralded as “the Eighth Wonder of the World,” until its total destruction in 1935's deadly storm of the century.
In Last Train to Paradise, Standiford celebrates this crowning achievement of Gilded Age ambition, bringing to life a sweeping tale of the powerful forces of human ingenuity colliding with the even greater forces of nature’s wrath.
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—Washington Post Book World
“A definitive account of the engineering feat that became known as ‘Flagler’s Folly’. . . A rousing adventure." —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A fascinating and incredibly compelling account . . . I could not put it down.” —Donald Trump
“This is the remarkable true-life chronicle of one of America’s greatest engineering achievements, and how it was all blown to bits in a few hellish hours. No novelist could have invented such a stunning tale, or such unforgettable characters.”
—Carl Hiaasen, author of Basket Case
“Last Train to Paradise is a fast-moving and gripping story about one of the most ambitious and difficult engineering projects of the last century.” —Henry Petroski, author of Engineers of Dreams
“This is a wonderfully told tale, a strange and compelling story about a strange and compelling part of the world. With sharp, evocative reporting, the book captures an era, the Florida landscape, and the very human dream of doing the impossible.”
—Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief
“Last Train to Paradise is an extraordinary achievement, a nonfiction book as exciting and finely written as a first-rate novel, with the narrative drive of a locomotive. . . . Throw in Ernest Hemingway and some of the most dramatic scenes of the chaos of a hurricane ever written and you’ve got one hell of a spectacular book.” —James Hall, author of Blackwater Sound and Under Cover of Daylight
“Only one thing could have stopped entrepreneur Henry Flagler: the most powerful storm ever to strike the United States. Les Standiford has given us a rousing—a deeply sobering—story of this 1935 collision between hubris and hurricane in the Florida Keys.” —Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
“Last Train to Paradise is a mesmerizing account of Gilded Age titan Henry Flagler and his extraordinary dream to build a railroad across the sea. Henry Flagler’s quest to build an overseas railroad has all the elements of a classic Greek tragedy, and Les Standiford has captured both the man and his times with pitch perfect grace.”
—Connie May Fowler, author of Before Women Had Wings and When Katie Wakes
From the Inside Flap
"A dramatic story . . . and Les Standiford has a good deal of fun with it all." —Washington Post Book World
"A rousing—a deeply sobering—story." —Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
"A fascinating and incredibly compelling account . . . I could not put it down." —Donald Trump
"A definitive account of the engineering feat that became known as 'Flagler's Folly'. . . A rousing adventure."—Atlanta Journal-Constitution
- Publisher : Crown; 41652nd edition (August 5, 2003)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1400049474
- ISBN-13 : 978-1400049479
- Item Weight : 8.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.2 x 0.65 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #21,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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It's a state which I love for many reasons (besides the obvious - the weather), but didn't know much about . I'd seen Flagler's name (as well as his assistant , Mr. Krome's ) on many streets , buildings and monuments , but had no idea what a visionary industrialist he was, nor how he came about his fortune.
This book tells a much needed story of some of the history of Florida for the millions and millions of refugees moving here from the frigid, high-tax, over-regulated northeastern states. It is beautifully written , reads like a novel, but it is well researched and relates a captivating story.
It's also a lesson in the awesome power of hurricanes for the neophyte who thinks he or she is going to "ride one out".
As an aside, it is a gentle reminder that horrific climatological events have occurred long before the term "man-made climate change" had even been dreamt up
As a resident of Pennsylvania, I now travel to Florida for a brief visit, once a year in the winter. Mister Flagler is an obviously notable personage in Florida to this day. I always wanted to read his biography and of course, of his activities in Florida. This book proved completely satisfactory in both regards.
As is common for me, I purchased the Kindle and accompanying audiobook, and read and listened simultaneously. The audiobook is faithful to the Kindle and is about as good as it can be under the circumstances. However, in that this is non fiction, the Kindle has photographs, and a bibliography that can not be reproduced on the audiobook. I enjoyed both, but if I was only to purchase one or the other, I would have chosen the Kindle.
The press called the Key West project “Flagler’s Folly.” Standiford includes many gruesome descriptions of the working conditions and the lives lost during the bridge’s building to and through the keys. The labor pool for the actual work included unemployed northerners and people from the islands. Many workers were unaccustomed to the humidity, heat, storms, and insects common in Florida. The workcamps that he set up for his workers were less than adequate, and Flagler dealt with workers who wanted to escape rather than work for low wages and risk getting sick and dying. Flagler contended with unfair labor practice claims, including a governmental investigation for slave-labor. Clearly, his hiring practices would not pass muster today. Flagler would have been unable to forge ahead with his plan under the EPA and the later twentieth century with the dredging of lands and redesigning nature’s paths to accommodate bridges and roadbeds. In 1912, the overseas railroad to Key West was finished after about seven years of labor, including at least three hurricanes. Much of the railway was damaged or demolished in the hurricane of 1935. Parts of the old path can be viewed from today’s modern roadway leading through the keys.
The value of Flagler’s dreams and accomplishments is for the reader to decide.
The concept, the project and its ultimate failure tell the story of the formation of modern Florida, how rail connecting St. Augustine with Miami initiated an enduring resort industry, and how business and government integrated on multiple levels to reach a common objective.
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Most of the narrative is concerned with the construction of the line, and Standiford gives a full and proper account of the monstrous civil engineering challenges that confronted Flagler's project management, causing the untimely death of the project manager, Joseph C Meredith, himself from his undisclosed diabetes. Many of the lower-graded workers predictably lost their lives too, but Flagler liked to think of himself as a considerate employer, and maybe by some standards of the time he was something approximating to that.
The book's title reflects the luxury passenger transportation and accommodation that made the railway line famous at first. In particular there had been a bit of a hiatus in the hurricane visitations that had plagued the work during its construction phase. It never made much, probably any, money, because as Standiford says railroad fortunes are not made from passenger traffic but from freight. He also draws a pointed parallel with the hopes for booming trade with Cuba and points south which also later seduced hopeful entrepreneurs after the fall of the Soviet Union: simply, these would-be trading partners did not have much to offer nor much money to buy what America was offering.
Meantime Flagler was totally determined to see his project completed before he died, as befell him in 1913, the funeral not being attended by Rockefeller nor, apparently, by any else from Standard Oil. The dream lived on, impecunious but spectacular, and mother nature dreamed on too until Labor Day 1935. Standiford's gift for description is superb, and in particular he does not cheapen any of it by exaggeration or looking for effect. This gift of course encompasses a talent for natural description. That's his depiction of the 'paradise' side of nature. He is equal to a very different kind of natural description and epic narrative when nature shows another side.
The tale of that horrific event in 1935 is told with precision, and perhaps it is what the book has all been about. The hurricane was apparently the worst that has struck the USA to this day, lacking only a personal name of the kind we use nowadays. The author does not flinch from the human stories, but another author who witnessed the disaster from Key West was Hemingway, who enquired pointedly who had put the unemployed ex-servicemen into flimsy accommodation to give the impression of caring for them; and who created the confusion that delayed the rescue train.
Comparisons have often been made with Greek tragedies. These are a rather loose fit, but one that doesn't really seem apposite is the quotation from Shelley's Ozymandias. In fact considerable relics of Flagler's project still survive and can be viewed from the highway that nowadays follows Flagler's route. The thing was shown to have been feasible, and Flagler, unlike Ozymandias, has a share of monuments.
He wholly' or at least partially redeemed his reputation in the eyes of subsequent generations by devoting his energies and lots of his wealth in creating a railroad the length of Florida, continuing all the way across the Oceanic Keys to Key West. It was a brave dream that in order to realise before he died, involved overcoming massive constructional difficulties never before encountered and the ever present threat of the annual hurricane season.
The lasting testament to Henry Flagler was not the Florida East Coast Railway but the unlocking of the economic, farming, industrial, tourist and residential potential of the area, that the railroad brought about.
Les Standiford's story of the determination of this old man to make his dream a reality, is recounted in an informative and highly engaging manner and will interest way beyond the railway fraternity.