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

Extended Audio Sample Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean Audiobook, by Les Standiford Click for printable size audiobook cover
4.09 out of 54.09 out of 54.09 out of 54.09 out of 54.09 out of 5 4.09 (34 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Les Standiford Narrator: Del Roy Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: May 2002 ISBN: 9780736697927
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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 strongest storm ever to hit US shores.

In 1904, the brilliant and driven entrepreneur Henry Flagler, partner to John D. Rockefeller and the true mastermind behind Standard Oil, concocted the dream 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.

“The financiers considered the project and said, Unthinkable. The engineers pondered the problems and from all came one verdict, Impossible…” But build it they did, and the railroad stood as a magnificent achievement for twenty-two years. Once dismissed as “Flagler’s Folly,” it was heralded as “the Eighth Wonder of the World”—until a will even greater than Flagler’s rose up in opposition. In 1935, a hurricane of exceptional force, which would be dubbed “the Storm of the Century,” swept through the tiny islands, killing some 700 residents and workmen and washing away all but one sixty-foot section of track, on which a 320,000-pound railroad engine stood and “gripped its rails as if the gravity of Jupiter were pressing upon it.” Standiford brings the full force and fury of this storm to terrifying life.

In spinning his saga of the railroad’s construction, Standiford immerses us in the treacherous world of the thousands of workers who beat their way through infested swamps, lived in fragile tent cities on barges anchored in the midst of daunting stretches of ocean, and suffered from a remarkable succession of three ominous hurricanes that killed many and washed away vast stretches of track. Steadfast through every setback, Flagler inspired a loyalty in his workers so strong that even after a hurricane dislodged one of the railroad’s massive pilings, casting doubt over the viability of the entire project, his engineers refused to be beaten. The question was no longer “Could it be done?” but “Can we make it to Key West on time?” to allow Flagler to ride the rails of his dream.

Last Train to Paradise celebrates this crowning achievement of Gilded Age ambition, a sweeping tale of the powerful forces of human ingenuity colliding with the even greater forces of nature’s wrath.

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Quotes & Awards

  • 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

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Amy | 2/6/2014

    " Good book about the development of Florida and the railroad built in the keys. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Evan | 2/1/2014

    " An entertaining little book of pop history. The writing alone would probably only be worth three stars, but the author's approach to his rather obscure subject is entertaining enough to bump it up to a solid four stars. A lovelorn millionaire decides to spend his fortune to build a railroad across the sea to Key West? With cameos by J.D. Rockefeller, Ernest Hemingway, and the Storm of the Century? How can you go wrong? "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Julie | 1/26/2014

    " Yes, you are seeing correctly-I am giving 5 stars to a non-fiction. I picked this book up on a recent trip to St. Augustine because I wanted to learn more about Henry Flagler, the man who co-founded Standard Oil with John Rockefeller, built fabulous hotels along the Florida coast and, oh yeah, built a railroad from Jacksonville to Key West. This book mostly tells the story of the latter, and I found myself fascinated by the idea, the hard work and heartbreak that went into the project, the hurricanes and the whole Key area. The author did a GREAT job of story telling; this was the first time I found myself not being able to put down a book that wasn't fiction. I was fascinated and a bit horrified at how Flagler was able to twist politics and power to push his railroad through, using men, material, money and power to get what he wanted. I highly recommend this book to anyone that has even the slightest interest in history-you won't be disappointed. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Kristen | 1/16/2014

    " I am fascinated by the subject of the railroad to Key West, so this book hooked me immediately. It is easy-to-read, almost narrative and shows how unemotional Flagler was. I was just in St. Augustine, so I wish I had read this book a month ago and could have done more exploring of Flagler history. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Amanda | 1/13/2014

    " Very good. A Must-read for every Floridian. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Krista | 1/13/2014

    " I wanted this book to be more but I blame my disappointment not on the book itself but on the fact that I read it directly after finishing Grunwald's fine tome "The Swamp," which blew my little mind. In "Last Train," Standiford tells the story of how Henry Flagler, the financial brains behind Rockefeller's Standard Oil, sunk much of his fortune into developing Florida and building a railroad down the east coast and across the ocean from the mainland to Key West. But having just read "The Swamp," I am in a mindset that southern Florida should never have been developed to the level that it has been; it just cannot sustain the population that now lives there. This is not Flagler's fault; he did not build all the cookie-cutter Miami burbs in the middle of the swamp and turn southern Florida into a hellscape of concrete and strip malls. But his railroad created Miami; and Palm Springs; and the whole east coast of southern Florida. It brought people to paradise. And they stayed. Too many of them stayed. And they built what they built. And they're running out of water and nature is disappearing. And what now? But all of those concerns aside, the book itself is inherently readable. A bit heavy on the Flagler-as-hero; Standiford finds few character flaws in the man, if any. I wanted a little more about the people; a little more in-depth biography of the engineers who sacrificed, and even died, to see Flagler's dream achieved. A little more about the societies Flagler's project created. I wanted an anthropological study of the culture Flagler created. Standiford gives a play-by-play of how the rails were built. There is no doubt that the railroad was a engineering feat of monumental magnitude. And having seen the bridges that still stand and imagining a day when you could get on the Havana Express in New York, arrive in Key West and immediately board a steamship for a short jaunt to Cuba gave me the requisite chills. I picked this up because I was curious about the era but there's very little here to assuage my curiosity; very little tangible atmosphere. A disappointment, moreso, given how Standiford starts the book, with a description of driving US Highway 1. His sense of place and how he communicates it to the reader is exquisite in this section. "It's an osprey's-eye view here at MM 84, out over the patchwork-colored seas. Splashes of cobalt, turquoise, amber, beige, and gray alternate, then fall away to deeper blue and steel, and off toward a pale horizon where sky and water meet at a juncture that's almost seamless on the brightest days ... the urge begins to creep in the back of the traveler's mind at about this moment: ... desert island, private island, island paradise. Buy myself one of these little dots, get a boat, and build a dock, kiss the world good-bye ..." But Standiford gives us none of that atmosphere in his history. It's like there are three separate books stories here; the 1935 hurricane and Ernest Hemingway, driving Highway 1, and Henry Flagler. And Standiford gives the Flagler story the least of his cultural, narrative and descriptive energy. It's almost just a chronology. I wanted more. "In a sense, the highway is what remains of one of the last great gasps of the era of Manifest Destiny and an undertaking that marked the true closing of the American Frontier. The building of "the railroad across the ocean" was a colossal piece of work, born of the same impulse that made individuals believe that pyramids could be raised, cathedrals erected, and continents tamed." "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Judy | 1/3/2014

    " Read this book after spending a week in the Keys in Florida. Really meant so much to try and imagine how they built the railroad after seeing the area. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Valerie | 1/1/2014

    " Henry Flagler was a far more interesting character than John D. Rockefeller. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Martha | 12/24/2013

    " I thought this was fiction but it wasn't. It was a very interesting description of the building of the railroad down to Key West. We visited there last summer and some of the old destroyed tracks are still there. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Amy | 12/3/2013

    " Fascinating non-fiction piece about Flagler's railroad that led down to the Keys and the hurricane(s) that made it a hellish project to complete. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cheryl | 11/29/2013

    " Keys History - Flagler's Folly, I think not. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Sonia Samuels | 7/10/2013

    " I have to admit that I was hesitant about reading this book. I was glad I did. Although I am not great fan of Florida, the author did a very good job overall in getting me fascinated with some Florida lore. Very interesting read. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Pamela Trawick | 4/12/2013

    " Interesting account of railroad building through Florida Keys. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Emilia B. | 3/25/2013

    " While not wonderfully written, this is still an enjoyable, quick read from a solid storyteller. Flagler and his Florida interests are definitely a topic worthy of more in-depth examination. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Sarah | 3/11/2013

    " Great book, amazing story of determination and the fact that nature always bats last "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Shannon Bailey | 2/25/2013

    " my bookclub selection for the month - really enjoyable and informative - can't wait to drive that Overseas Highway with all of this new info in my brain. What a monumental undertaking the railroad was! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Irene Basore | 4/23/2012

    " History of Henry Flagler's building of an empire and his trials and tribulations to build a railroad to Key West. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Runi | 3/31/2012

    " great historical book about Florida. I had no idea in regards to Mr. Flagler's love for the state of Florida. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Joseph | 3/16/2012

    " A very poorly written account of an amazing event. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Rhonda | 1/13/2012

    " Learned a lot about the trials of building the railroad through the Keys.....hurricanes, mosquitoes, etc. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Margaret | 6/6/2011

    " This was a great introduction to Florida history and a well-crafted story. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jean | 4/24/2011

    " Fantastic read about the history of building the first transportation to Key West. Henry Flagler was a very interesting man. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jerry | 3/11/2011

    " Another of the amazing feats during the times of American expansion (trans-continental railroad, panama canal, etc.) when we thought nothing was impossible. Especially interesting if you have a familiarity with the Keys so you can picture much of the terrain and the remains of the bridges. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Bev | 1/29/2011

    " Had no idea one man was so responsible for developing Florida. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Runi | 1/15/2011

    " great historical book about Florida. I had no idea in regards to Mr. Flagler's love for the state of Florida. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Ayshia | 1/13/2011

    " This is a really great historical fiction. I find myself not being able to put the book down. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Nancy | 12/31/2010

    " Love the keys. Love reading anything about them. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Kristen | 12/29/2010

    " I am fascinated by the subject of the railroad to Key West, so this book hooked me immediately. It is easy-to-read, almost narrative and shows how unemotional Flagler was. I was just in St. Augustine, so I wish I had read this book a month ago and could have done more exploring of Flagler history. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mkay | 12/8/2010

    " Really fascinating piece of history. Well written. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mary | 12/7/2010

    " True account of the building of the Key West railroad, considered the 8th wonder of the world. The railroad was destroyed by a hurricane in 1935. This is a fast paced adventure tale which holds the reader from page one. A lively account of an extraordinary construction story. Wonderful! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Marcie | 10/13/2010

    " Interesting review of history of Flagler's building of the Florida railroad - probably of more interest to those of us who live in Florida. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Martha | 6/16/2010

    " I thought this was fiction but it wasn't. It was a very interesting description of the building of the railroad down to Key West. We visited there last summer and some of the old destroyed tracks are still there. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Chris | 2/10/2010

    " This was a well-told history. Can't drive down to Key West without the book's images coming to mind. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jean | 1/5/2010

    " Fantastic read about the history of building the first transportation to Key West. Henry Flagler was a very interesting man. "

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About the Author

Les Standiford is the bestselling author of numerous books and novels, including the John Deal mystery series, and the narrative histories Last Train to Paradise and The Man Who Invented Christmas, which was a New York Times Editor’s Choice. He is the director of the creative writing program at Florida International University in Miami, where he lives with his wife, Kimberly, a psychotherapist and artist.