The Barnes & Noble Review
This riveting biography of Henry Flagler, the driven oilman who helped establish Florida as a vacation destination, reads like a Raise the Titanic for the railroad set. Flagler, who dreamed of building a railway that would connect Key West to the Florida mainland, was a determined entrepreneur whose dream would, ultimately, be obliterated by forces he never imagined.
Flagler made his fortune as co-founder of Standard Oil with John D. Rockefeller. When he retired, he dedicated himself to a dream: creating access to Florida's Gold Coast. He built a string of resorts, from Jacksonville to Key West. The centerpiece was the Florida East Coast Railway, running over open ocean for an incredible 156 miles from Miami to Key West. When it was completed and operational in 1913, Miami was an immediate benefactor and soon became both a destination and a point of departure for the Keys (and, further south, Havana). The Railway stood until 1935, when the worst hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland ripped many of
the bridges from their anchors, destroying Flagler's quixotic dream.
Last Train to Paradise is a compelling mix of suspense, heroism, and determination, written by
an author with a deft touch. Get on board! Elena Simon
A good idea to have a novelist tell the story of Henry Morrison Flagler, the 19th-century mogul credited with developing Florida as a vacation paradise goes sadly astray here. Readers hoping to learn about the man will be disappointed, as will those looking for a good yarn about the engineering marvel that is this tale's centerpiece Flagler's creation, in the early 20th century, of a rail line that traversed 153 miles of open ocean to link mainland Florida with Key West. The narrative bumps along, frequently veering off into tantalizing detours that lead nowhere. Standiford presents pages about the power of hurricanes to destroy property and savage the human body, an emphasis that is the book's undoing: readers are led to believe that storm damage in 1935 was the sole reason for the railroad's abandonment. This prompts Standiford to argue that Flagler's undertaking was a "folly" from the start, as his contemporaries claimed, and that his story constitutes a classic "tragedy." In fact, the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) was undone as much, if not more, by a force Standiford never mentions: the internal combustion engine. After the hurricane of 1935, investors and the government considered rebuilding the FEC, but decided instead on a highway. The book's conclusion references Shelley's cautionary poem "Ozymandias," a gloss on the impermanence of man's works. The warning might apply to this unsatisfying book. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Sept.) Forecast: An author tour will concentrate on Florida, where this book should sell well. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Standiford (Done Deal, Miami: City of Dreams) brings his novelist's eye to the true-life drama of the railroad built to link Key West with mainland Florida. The book opens as one of the most powerful hurricanes in modern times rages across the Florida Keys, destroying the railroad and killing many unfortunates who sought shelter along its tracks. Standiford then follows parallel tracks, detailing the merciless progress of the storm while tracing the Key West Extension's brief and eventful existence. The brainchild of Standard Oil millionaire Henry Flagler, the railroad was considered an impossible dream because it had to cross 156 miles of water. But Flagler had the will and the millions of dollars, to make his "Folly" a reality. Begun in 1905, the railroad took nearly seven years and $20 million to build. Three hurricanes washed away miles of track during the building, and engineers had to develop entirely new techniques for spanning deep and wide bodies of water. In the end, the track stood for only 22 years before the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 swept all but a few miles of it back into the sea. A powerful story told by a talented writer; recommended for public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/02.] Duncan Stewart, State Historical Soc. of Iowa Lib., Iowa City Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The story of the crazy idea to build a railroad over open ocean in the Florida Keys, its completion, and its complete destruction 22 years later in a hurricane is well told by author and Florida resident Standiford. Though the central protagonist is the oil tycoon Henry Flagler, who was a pivotal figure in the development of Florida's coast, Standiford never loses sight of the experience of the railroad's less well-known engineers and workers. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
The story of the crazy idea to build a railroad over open ocean in the Florida Keys, its completion, and its complete destruction 22 years later in a hurricane is well told by author and Florida resident Standiford. Though the central protagonist is the oil tycoon Henry Flagler, who was a pivotal figure in the development of Florida's coast, Standiford never loses sight of the experience of the railroad's less well-known engineers and workers. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A History Lite tale chronicles the building, between 1892 and 1912, of the 156-mile railroad from Miami to Key West, once billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World. As he readily acknowledges, Florida resident and novelist Standiford (Bone Key, p. 296, etc.) owes much to those professional historians who dug out the details of the remarkable story he swiftly and ably summarizes. He begins at the end: Labor Day, 1935, when a massive hurricane struck the Keys, an event exhaustively detailed in William Drye's Storm of the Century (above). Among those scurrying around trying to protect life and property were Ernest Hemingway, whose house and boat suffered minor damage, and Bertrand Russell, who lost family members and very nearly died himself. Just as a 20-foot tidal wave hits a train, the author whisks us away to the year 1904. Henry Flagler, a trusted associate of John D. Rockefeller and an extremely wealthy man himself, courtesy of Standard Oil, has decided to develop Florida. Standiford fleshes out Flagler's remarkable career as hotel-builder and resort-developer, portraying him as an innovative entrepreneur with an unflagging faith in himself and in his structural engineers. Although the press characterized the projected railroad across swamp and sea as "Flagler's Folly," he never doubted it would one day exist and turn a tidy profit. He was right about the former, wrong about the latter. Standiford does an admirable job of keeping the story afloat as the project is plagued by hurricane, mosquitoes, and vast cost overruns, and he has an eye for the memorable detail (e.g., each morning, alligators had to be shooed away from the construction equipment), as well as a weakness for clichés. Atthe end, he returns readers to his exciting account of the 1935 hurricane that destroyed much of the roadbed and exiled the railroad to history. Engaging, but facile. (8 pp. b&w photos, not seen) Author tour
“A dramatic story . . . and Les Standiford has a good deal of fun with it all.”
—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