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41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"Last Train to Paradise" is a nonfiction account of the construction of the railroad connecting Key West to the Florida mainland, a project headed by Henry Flagler.
It is a well-researched and documented history of an exciting time in the exploration and development of Florida that reads like a novel.
Building a railroad over 150 miles of water under the harshest of conditions was the vision of one man, Henry Flagler. Mr. Flagler used his personal fortune to make this dream come true.
When he first arrived in Florida he was the second wealthiest man in the country. His fortune was made in partnership with John Rockefeller and the creation of Standard Oil.
The ingenuity necessary to accomplish this task is absolutely incredible. The obstacles overcome included the brutal weather (heat and hurricanes), having to import every item from drinking water to food to nails.
As I read the story I found the task more impossible with each accomplishment along the way. The closer they got to their objective, the more unattainable I thought the goal was. They truly did the impossible.
That Mr. Flagler and his crew succeeded is a testament to the pioneer spirit of America.
Dr. Standiford has written a fast paced book. He is a wonderful story teller. It is where truth and fact is so improbable, that one could not make up a superior fictional account.
The photographs are a wonderful addition.
With all the scandals in business today, it is enlightening to read the story of a man who put his reputation and own money on the line for what he believed in.
As Dr. Standiford said: "Henry Flagler evolved from acquisitive robber baron to creator."
Henry Flagler may not have discovered Florida, but he saw all the state's possibilities and created the framework and infrastructure that made Florida livable.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Les Standiford has put together a spell-binding tale of the last of the privately financed infrastructure projects undertaken by the larger than life 19th century businessmen. Here Henry Flagler races against his own mortality to complete a railroad from Jacksonville to Key West, with the final run south from Miami requiring herculean engineering, management, and financial resources. Flager was a partner of John D. Rockefeller in an earlier venture known as Standard Oil who decided in his 70's to pursue a second career in railroading, land development, and luxury hotels in the then desolate country of South Florida and the Keys.
Standiford weaves together Flagler, Rockefeller, their arch-rival trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt, WWI bonus armies, and big-game hunting author Ernest Hemingway. While Rockefeller also owned vacation homes in Florida, he and Flagler ultimately had a parting of the ways, with Rockefeller pointedly not attending Flagler's funeral. Flagler had been an early supporter of Roosevelt in his successful bid for the New York governorship after Roosevelt's success in the brief Spanish American war. Later Roosevelt brought antitrust action against Standard Oil and at least in Flagler's mind was behind government resistance to his plan to build a deep water harbor in Miami. Ironically, the US victory in the Spanish American War, together with confirmed plans to build the Panama Canal, were the motiviation for Flagler's railroad adventures, as Flagler projected, incorrectly as it turned out, that Miami and Key West would grow in stature as ports.
The final thread introduces Hemingway into the mix. The author was already a well-known Key Wester when the hurricane of Labor Day 1935 ravaged the Keys. Although Hemingway's home and his beloved boat Pilar were not seriously damaged, Flagler's railroad was destroyed. A group of WWI bonus army veterans were working on road construction. Many were killed, despite a daring railroad rescue attempt. By 1935, Flager was long dead and the railroad was in bankruptcy. It was never rebuilt, although some bridges are still standing, for the exclusive use of fishermen and birds.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. Standiford is a tremendous storyteller, as good as Sebastian Junger, or David McCullough. The rise and fall of the Key West railroad, which was built over 150 miles of water by tycoon Henry Flagler, is a story I knew little about. Great fun and I learned a tremendous amount as well. One warning--be prepared to go to work a little bleary-eyed tomorrow--you won't be able to put this down until the last hurricane has hit...
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Having made the drive from Miami to Key West a couple of times, I've been curious about the abandoned bridges that you see all the way down the Keys. When someone recommended this book to me I was excited to learn how those bridges got there - which I did - but I learned a lot more too.

Henry Flagler, who made his fortune as Rockefeller's early partner at Standard Oil, spent that fortune as the pioneering developer of the East Coast of Florida. One of the most fascinating things you learn in this book is just how late in US history the development of Florida came about. As recently as the 1890s, Miami was just a small outpost called Fort Dallas that was reachable only by a trip of train, then boat, then horse-drawn carriage. In the 1890s!

At the same time, Key West was the most populous city in Florida with 20,000 inhabitants and a thriving economy. Flagler imagined that Key West would become the most important deep-water port on the East Coast with the completion of the Panama Canal and that his railroad would carry all of that freight to the continental US. It never happened, and by the time contruction was halfway done Flagler knew it was incredibly unlikely, but by that time he was committed to "ride his own steel to Key West before he died."

All of that is part and parcel to this story of man against nature in a manner that just can't happen in today's era of heightened environmental awareness (I guess we shouldn't block the flow of the Gulf Stream after all). In the end, all is undone by the biggest Gulf storm in recorded history, the Labor Day storm of 1935.

A great read for any fan of history or anyone who is interested in the Keys or Florida.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"Last Train to Paradise" is an excellent introductory read on the fascinating story of the construction of the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railroad, the massive early 20th century construction project linking the 128 miles of Florida Keys from Key West to the mainland.

I do not believe any one book can ever hope to present a thoroughly satisfying retelling of a project this huge. How can a book on a subject about which so many others have been written, justify its existence?

By rising above all of the rest, either in style or content.
By telling previously unknown facts: a recent shocking disclosure perhaps.
Or by being the first book to introduce the reader to the subject.

I had read nothing of the FEC until I came across Mr. Standiford's book, unfortunately, my feeling throughout and upon finishing the book was a desire to know more. This book is ambitious but reads as if not quite certain as to its purpose: is it a biography of FEC visionary and Florida pioneer Henry Flagler? A history of the development of Florida? The story of the FEC extension? A telling of the great Labor Day Hurricane? All of the above? As a result, the overall experience suffers.

With rather limited selection of photographs and perhaps a tendency to choose the most dramatic of moments from the project, I found my mind wandering repeatedly through the somewhat contrived narrative. While there is ample detail of many of the highlights of the project, I was never drawn in with a feeling of what it must have been like to even have been alive at a time like that, much less conceptualize such an mind-boggling project.

The stylization and dramatization of events for which the author was not present is a challenging technique, makes for good reading for many, but is entirely too subjective for me and seems to have been difficult to maintain throughout the entire volume. While I came away feeling hungry and slightly unsatisfied, for many this book may be an excellent and entertaining rendition of the great project.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 3, 2003
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
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 hotels, the Florida East Coast Railway, and later the Key West Expansion, gave us our modern state. This story is extremely interesting, and I found it well-written. It tells something I did not know before, and that's always important to me when I read any non-fiction work. It's a tale of insight, struggle, ultimate success, and subsequent destruction by the forces of an all-powerful natural storm. Men such as Henry Flagler do not walk among us any longer, and perhaps we are all the poorer for that.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Henry Morrison Flagler, multimillioniaire and second richest man in the world (John. D. Rockefeller being the first), came to Jacksonville, FL with his first wife, to help her recover from bronchitis, a chronic condition which plagued her in Long Island, New York, their home up north. First, he fell in love with Florida, and second, his businessman's acumen took over ... he saw opportunity where others only saw a wilderness. He built the first railroad traversing across Florida from Jacksonville to Miami. He built the "eighth wonder of the world" ... many bridges across the Florida Keys, across miles of water, connecting the southern most point in the United States with the mainland. He opened south Florida as a resort to the wealthy by building hotels in St. Augustine and Palm Beach. And when he visited the bustling port of Key West, the closest link to the Caribbean and South America, he got the brilliant idea to build a railroad from what is now Homestead, FL to Key West which at the time was the largest city and busiest port in Florida. Initially, he was ridiculed, he was criticized, he could not even get investors to put their money into the project. As the ultimate risk-taker, he used up his own savings, approximately 28 - 30 million dollars to make his dream, his vision for the future come true. He left a legacy in Florida which will not be forgotten But there was a steep cost ... not just in money ... but in men's lives.

Henry Morrison Flagler did his market research. He determined that for economic reasons Florida was ripe for development. It had huge tracts ready for orchard farmers to grow tropical fruit to transport to the rest of the USA. The cites of Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and Miami benefited from the golden touch of Flagler ... he built hotels for himself and his wealthy friends which included the finest amenities of his day. The wealthy flocked to the pristine white beaches and newly built golf courses. They viewed the beautiful sunsets and heard the waves crashing on shore ... but they would *not* risk their money on Flagler's vision. Flagler's project needed capital and also labor. He hired the best trained bridge-building engineers and project managers, men who relished his vision and the supreme challenge of a lifetime.

In this book, we learn how men were recruited from all the major cities of the USA and many from Europe (primarily Italy and Spain) and the Caribbean islands (specifically, the Cayman Islands) to do the back-breaking labor in the hot tropical climate of Florida amidst mosquitoes and slimy boggy waters ... but the most menacing threat was not even recognized until it struck unexpectedly and with deadly force ... the hurricane. The camps were destroyed, men lost their lives, bodies and body parts were hurdled with abandon, and men simply disappeared under water, swallowed up by the ocean. Yet, the "conchs" (as people living on the Florida Keys were called) recovered despite the devastation. Even with huge losses of money and lives, Henry Flagler pursued his dream until it became reality. After nearly going into debt and with failing eyesight and poor health, Henry Morrison Flagler lived to view the monument he thought would last beyond his lifetime ... a living legacy for all Floridians ... a railroad connecting all the Florida Keys to the mainland. Sadly, the railroad only lasted about 22 years before progress took a different turn ... automobiles were gaining popularity and a highway was built. However to his credit, the bridges he built were of such superior quality (some still stand today) they were used for the infrastructure of the highway. This book is a testimony to the man, the times, and his vision ... it is a magnificent opus which is highly worth reading. It is an adventure story that also includes some surprisingly spicy romance (after his first wife died, Flagler had two other wives each about 35 years younger than himself). Most importantly, the book includes descriptions of 'man against nature' with harrowing details that cause ripples of uneasy sensations to crawl on one's skin ... Having lived through *four* hurricanes in 2004, two disastrous ones named Charley and Ivan, this reader appreciates and respects the forces of nature. This is one book I could not put down until the very end. It leaves me wanting to know more about Henry Morrison Flagler, the man, the millionaire, the visionary railroad entrepeneur. Erika Borsos (erikab3)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 22, 2009
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I wanted to like this book more than I did. I had read Les Standiford's "Meet You in Hell" and I was ready for another rollicking account of the life of a robber baron. Unfortunately, this was not the case for this book. I do not mean to malign or belittle the history of this railroad. It may well have created Florida as we know it today. However, for the average reader, neither the railroad or Flagler himself may be interesting enough subject matter.

At the outset, let me say that Standiford by no means slipped up when he wrote this one. His prose is easy to read. It is detailed enough to be true to the history and evocative enough to keep up one's interest. The depth of the book is similar to a two part article for a magazine such as the Atlantic Monthly. It is well written but may not have enough detail for a hard nosed railroad fan or Florida historian. The level of detail, however, for the average reader is likely adequate.

The problem here is a side effect of the subject matter, not the writing. Unless you are a true train buff, the trials and tribulations of creating a railroad to Key West may not be the most intriguing story. It is a true story of the triumph of a man with a singular vision fighting--and winning for a time--against nature. But the story of the building of the railroad itself ends up following familiar patterns of devising a way to lay a difficult section of track, assembling and housing a work force, and setbacks dealt to the workers by the elements, mostly hurricanes.

To spice things up, Standiford relates facts about hurricanes, personal accounts of hurricane survival stories from Flagler's time to the present, and occasional anecdotes about Flagler. There is little intrigue here concerning political obstacles and the building of the railroad. The political elements were less insurmountable than the natural elements--no one else had the wherewithal or desire to build a Key West extension, and no one else had the tenacity or interest to finance such a project. In fact, finance never seemed to be a real problem, as Flagler had more than enough assets to cover the construction and there was never any danger of running out of money.

We do get some insight into Flagler himself. The problem is that compared to his fellow robber barons, Flagler could be described as temperate. Flagler may have been tenacious, driven, and confident, but he doesn't have the volatility of Frick or the flamboyance of Carnegie. Yes, there is the occasional isolated missive, but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. While the other robber barons seem to spit cholic and bile, Flagler is downright phlegmatic. Flagler's rather sphinx like character doesn't help matters either. There are apparently few people who he confided in that left accounts of Flagler's true opinions or inner-most thoughts. He was not much of a diarist--his diary entries tell us what was happening on a given day in, perhaps, a single, telegraphic line.

So if you are interested in a piece of Florida history, have a deep interest in trains, or want to know something more about hurricanes--this one is for you. It is a well written account, but I do not think it holds interest for everyone.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Really missed having the photos available on the Kindle. Would have helped follow the story. Should have bought it in paperback form!
The book is basically a history book about Flagler. His life is worth knowing about, but this book is not a page turner. You have to want to know history.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is a good book if you love Florida history as much as I do. The first chapter is especially fine and very dramatic, with the old 447 chugging down the line in the middle of the 1935 Labor Day hurricane with 200 plus mph winds, a movie all by itself! Its bogs down a little in later chapters only because of its historical accuracy, ie. details about building the bridges across the open water, etc. My only other criticism is it lumps Flagler's personal life in one chapter and then you have to keep going back to see whats happening with Flagler personally (eg. his problems with Ida Shroud who went insane) while the railroad is being built. These are minor criticisms and over all the book is an assett to any historical library.
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