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The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War Hardcover – February 24, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1St Edition edition (February 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385520603
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385520607
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,286,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Praise from Britain for The House of Wittgenstein

“The story in this book is so gripping and fascinating that it is remarkable that it has never been told in this way before. It is probably just as well, for it is hard to imagine another account showing such fluency, wit and attention to detail as Alexander Waugh’s.” —Simon Heffer, Literary Review

“[A] diligently researched history of the Wittgenstein family . . . it will attract . . . readers because of its utterly absorbing account of the military, musical and personal heroics of Paul Wittgenstein.”—Ray Monk, Standpoint

“Waugh has done a masterly job, untangling a mass of financial and psychological complexities, while never over-encumbering the central, personal stories. His writing is brisk, confident and colourful . . . and the book is a pleasure to read.”
—Noel Malcolm, Telegraph

“Marvellous, a sharp combination of some formidable scholarship . . . with a wonderful eye for absurdity . . . a magnificently refreshing and invigorating volume which deserves a wide readership.” —Frank McLynn, The Independent

Praise for Fathers and Sons

“[Alexander Waugh] has created a vivid, Dickensian portrait of his eccentric relatives, and he’s done so with enormous irreverence and élan.”
—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

“An extraordinary depiction.” —Christopher Hitchens, New York Times Book Review

“Witty, in the Waugh manner, but it is also poignant.” —Joan Acocella, The New Yorker

“Hugely entertaining tales of literature and lunacy.” —Entertainment Weekly

“An immensely readable literary account of eccentric, memorable characters.” —Kirkus Reviews

A work of real discovery and rollicking narrative. This is a memorable biography, not to be missed.” —Norman Lebrecht, London Evening Standard

About the Author

ALEXANDER WAUGH is the grandson of Evelyn Waugh and the son of columnist Auberon Waugh. He has written several books, including Classical Music: A New Way of Listening, Time, and God. He lives in Somerset, England, with his wife and three children.

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Customer Reviews

The more I read, the more I learn.
Gerda Albert
Unfortunately for me, very little of the book was devoted to discussing his mathematical genius, or the famous theorem that still holds his name.
Herbert L Calhoun
He does a very fine job of writing about this very good book.
John Sollami

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Alexander Waugh (grandson of Evelyn and son of Auberon) tells the story of another distinguished family, the Wittgensteins of Vienna, circa 1875-1950. The paterfamilias was Karl Wittgenstein, a cold-blooded industrialist who made himself one of the richest men in the Hapsburg Empire and put his family and home near the epicenter of Viennese culture at its height near the turn of the Century. For the most part THE HOUSE OF WITTGENSTEIN is a family biography of Karl, his wife Poldy, and their nine children, two of whom -- Ludwig, the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century, and Paul, a one-armed concert pianist -- achieved individual fame.

In addition to their phenomenal wealth, two other things marked the Wittgenstein clan: their shared passion and gift for music (there were seven grand pianos in their home, the "Palais") and their shared antagonisms, feuds, and overall dysfunctionality. The latter surely had something to do with the fact that all five sons seriously entertained the notion of suicide, and three actually did themselves in (although one was a case of suicide on the battlefield and probably was triggered by the prospect of capture). In addition, there are numerous other suicides by relatives and acquaintances. Yet again I am struck by the high incidence of suicide among middle-Europeans in the half century between 1875 and 1925. (And yet again I am prompted to think that surely it is no coincidence that the same milieu gave rise to Sigmund Freud.)

As between the two famous brothers who did not end their own lives, Waugh devotes much more discussion to Paul.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By J. A. Haverstick on April 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I was wandering thru Borders with a 30% coupon and came upon this book. I had previously read the review in the NYRB. As have many people, I have been influenced by Ludwig W's take on philosophy and read it all (except Remarks on Mathematics, which I started with grim determination in a tavern, but quickly gave up on.) I wondered why they had two copies in the store but on checking out realized it is due to the relative popularity of the author and the clout of the publisher, Doubleday.

Those from industrial philosophy now approaching their dotage may remember the sixties and seventies when information about the private life of Ludwig W existed in only in scattered reminiscences and a few anecdotes which made him seem a moral monster. This information and also access to the Nachlass was jealously protected by a group of acolytes. His behavior was excused by his genius (but Einstein was a nice guy!) or having a tortured soul (try working the nite shift at Burger King!) Anyway, as more complete biographies appeared, some of the mystery disappeared.

At first, I regretted my buy, but as suicides and other tragedies thinned the cast, I became more interested and finished the book. And it's Paul W who's the main character, not Ludwig, as it turns out.

I did eventually come to a more sympathetic understanding of Ludwig by getting all that background on this rich and influential Austrian family and the members' various tribulations and eccentricities. Addtionally, it was good to see the philosopher treated in a book by an author who has no agenda and, in fact, seems a bit unimpressed by the subject (as person and discipline).

By the end of the book, as we were into a long description of the Wittgensteins and the German racial purity laws, I was really interested.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jay Dickson VINE VOICE on May 15, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Karl Wittgenstein left his many children a fortune practically unparalleled among the commoners of the Austro-Hunagrian empire through his enormous diversified wealthy holdings; he also left them his love of classical music (Mahler, Strauss, and Schoenberg all played in his salon), and unfortunately his incredibly fastidious temperament that brought them each much misery and made it difficult for them to stand one another (or other people). Alexander Waugh's THE HOUSE OF WITTGENSTEIN is a biography of his children, three of whom committed suicide (all for very different reasons and in mysterious circumstances), and two of whom left indelible marks on the twentieth century: the one-armed pianist Paul, one of the foremost classical artists of his era, and his youngest brother Ludwig, the great philosopher. Given that Alexander Waugh (himself from a famously talented, and famously unhappy, family) is a classical music critic, the primary focus of this story is Paul, a man perhaps not of the highest talents but who used his family fortune to commission piano pieces for the left hand from Korngold, Britten, and Ravel that ensured him fame and greatly enriched the piano repertoire; but the biography also focuses a great deal on Paul, and on two of their sisters, Gretl and Hermine, who were important figures within the family.

Waugh really is exciting when he tells us about the news of the family's love of music and Paul's career as both a pianist and as a patron of great composers; unfortunately, he is less exciting when it comes to describing Ludwig's philosophy, which he clearly does not understand and views mostly as mere chicanery. And though portraits of both Hermine and Gretl emerge from the biography, most of their other siblings remain mysteries.
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