LAST TRAIN TO PARADISE: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad That Crossed an Ocean

Les Standiford, Author . Crown $24 (288p) ISBN 978-0-609-60748-0

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.

Reviewed on: 07/08/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
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Hardcover - 372 pages - 978-0-7862-4943-5
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-1-4000-4947-9
Compact Disc - 978-0-553-75684-5
Hardcover - 328 pages - 978-0-9839378-0-7
Book - 1 pages - 978-1-4159-5346-4
Book - 978-0-7366-8785-0
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