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Last Train to Paradise


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About the Author

LES STANDIFORD is the author of eight critically acclaimed novels, including most recently Bone Key, as well as several works of nonfiction. He has received the Frank O'Connor Award for Short Fiction and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. Since 1981 he has lived in Miami with his wife and three children. They are themselves survivors of Hurricane Andrew.


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.

"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

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