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

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The 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 U.S. shores.

In 1904, the brilliant and driven entrepreneur Henry Flagler, partner to John D. Rockefeller, dreamed 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. Many considered the project impossible, but build it they did. The railroad stood as a magnificent achievement for more than twenty-two years, heralded as “the Eighth Wonder of the World,” until its total destruction in 1935's deadly storm of the century. 

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

Publisher
Broadway Books
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Published on
Aug 5, 2003
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9781400051182
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / State & Local / South (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, VA, WV)
Nature / Natural Disasters
Transportation / Railroads / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In this account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage, Stephen E. Ambrose offers a historical successor to his universally acclaimed Undaunted Courage, which recounted the explorations of the West by Lewis and Clark.
Nothing Like It in the World is the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad -- the investors who risked their businesses and money; the enlightened politicians who understood its importance; the engineers and surveyors who risked, and lost, their lives; and the Irish and Chinese immigrants, the defeated Confederate soldiers, and the other laborers who did the backbreaking and dangerous work on the tracks.
The Union had won the Civil War and slavery had been abolished, but Abraham Lincoln, who was an early and constant champion of railroads, would not live to see the great achievement. In Ambrose's hands, this enterprise, with its huge expenditure of brainpower, muscle, and sweat, comes to life.
The U.S. government pitted two companies -- the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads -- against each other in a race for funding, encouraging speed over caution. Locomo-tives, rails, and spikes were shipped from the East through Panama or around South America to the West or lugged across the country to the Plains. This was the last great building project to be done mostly by hand: excavating dirt, cutting through ridges, filling gorges, blasting tunnels through mountains.
At its peak, the workforce -- primarily Chinese on the Central Pacific, Irish on the Union Pacific -- approached the size of Civil War armies, with as many as fifteen thousand workers on each line. The Union Pacific was led by Thomas "Doc" Durant, Oakes Ames, and Oliver Ames, with Grenville Dodge -- America's greatest railroad builder -- as chief engineer. The Central Pacific was led by California's "Big Four": Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins. The surveyors, the men who picked the route, were latter-day Lewis and Clark types who led the way through the wilderness, living off buffalo, deer, elk, and antelope.
In building a railroad, there is only one decisive spot -- the end of the track. Nothing like this great work had been seen in the world when the last spike, a golden one, was driven in at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869, as the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific tracks were joined.
Ambrose writes with power and eloquence about the brave men -- the famous and the unheralded, ordinary men doing the extraordinary -- who accomplished the spectacular feat that made the continent into a nation.
Here is history that reads like fiction: the riveting story of two founding fathers of American industry—Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick—and the bloody steelworkers’ strike that transformed their fabled partnership into a furious rivalry. Author Les Standiford begins at the bitter end, when the dying Carnegie proposes a final meeting after two decades of separation, probably to ease his conscience. Frick’s reply: “Tell him that I’ll meet him in hell.”

It is a fitting epitaph. Set against the backdrop of the Gilded Age, a time when Horatio Alger preached the gospel of upward mobility and expansionism went hand in hand with optimism, Meet You in Hell is a classic tale of two men who embodied the best and worst of American capitalism. Standiford conjures up the majesty and danger of steel manufacturing, the rough-and-tumble of late-nineteenth-century big business, and the fraught relationship of “the world’s richest man” and the ruthless coke magnate to whom he entrusted his companies. Enamored of Social Darwinism, the emerging school of thought that applied the notion of survival of the fittest to human society, both Carnegie and Frick would introduce revolutionary new efficiencies and meticulous cost control to their enterprises, and would quickly come to dominate the world steel market.

But their partnership had a dark side, revealed most starkly by their brutal handling of the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892. When Frick, acting on Carnegie’s orders to do whatever was necessary, unleashed three hundred Pinkerton detectives, the result was the deadliest clash between management and labor in U.S. history. WHILE BLOOD FLOWED, FRICK SMOKED ran one newspaper headline. The public was outraged. An anarchist tried to assassinate Frick. Even today, the names Carnegie and Frick cannot be uttered in some union-friendly communities.

Resplendent with tales of backroom chicanery, bankruptcy, philanthropy, and personal idiosyncrasy, Meet You in Hell is a fitting successor to Les Standiford’s masterly Last Train to Paradise. Artfully weaving the relationship of these titans through the larger story of a young nation’s economic rise, Standiford has created an extraordinary work of popular history.


From the Hardcover edition.
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