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The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War Paperback – April 20, 2010

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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews


“Excellent and astonishing. . . . Fits squarely among the long line of nonfiction masterpieces driven by the intoxicating richness of early century Vienna. . . . Riveting.” —The New York Observer

“When it comes to dysfunction, the Wittgensteins of Vienna could give the Oedipuses a run for their money.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Even in the exotic Vienna of one hundred years ago, the Wittgenstein clan stood out for its density of eccentrics. . . . [Waugh] has at least one stupefying anecdote per page as he describes this stunningly maladroit bunch of cultivated nuts, sweeties, intellectuals, philanthropists, and misanthropes.” —Bloomberg
“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 hard to imagine another account showing such fluency, wit and attention to detail.” —Literary Review

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

“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.” —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.” —The Independent

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1 edition (April 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307278727
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307278722
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,024,101 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 6, 2009
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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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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Format: Paperback
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent

The above is a quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein. I'm not sure what its about. I read this book to get some backround on the philosopher (also because I head a good series on the Wittgenstein family on BBC radio 4). His family was brilliant, wealthy and tragic, three of his brothers committed suicide; his father was domineering, his mother catatonic. Ludwig did not speak to his surviving brother Paul for the last years of his life. The family, however, was intensely musical.
There is a good description of the early years in Vienna, and, a little known (to me) description of the First world War battles between Austria and Russia, which were more complex than you might expect. Ludwig's brother Paul, a noted pianist, lost his arm in one battle; and the majority of the book is taken up with Paul's struggle to relaunch his career. As the family were so wealthy Paul could afford to commission the major composers of the day to write pieces which could be played with one hand. Paul then went on to perform these pieces, but could never quite overcome the feeling that people came to his concerts to see the spectacle of a one handed pianist, rather than for his inherent talent. There are very descriptive elements too of the families struggle with Nazism, their horror at being declared Jewish (a grandparent, may have been Jewish, and therefore they were declared jewish, despite being Christian for generations); and the insanity of their efforts to disprove their claim - they had to establish that one of their grandparents was illegitimate.
However, there is almost nothing about Ludwig. He drifts through the book, but the central character is Paul, and I was quite disappointed about that, as before I read the book Ludwig was the only family member I knew about. Now he's the one I know least about. Oh dear.
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