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

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Books (24 Feb. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385520603
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385520607
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.6 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,765,924 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

`Waugh writes with an historian's eye for detail and a novelist's gift for evocation ... Waugh skilfully traces the trajectory of these lives. ****' --Independent on Sunday --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Alexander Waugh is the grandson of Evelyn and son of Auberon. He has been the chief Opera Critic at both the Mail on Sunday and the Evening Standard, and is also a publisher, cartoonist and award-winning composer. He is the author of Fathers and Sons, Time and God. He reviews regularly for national newspapers and magazines. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 25 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A niggle first: I know there are difficulties in writing a multiple biography which is the history of a very large family; but even so, there seems to be no rhyme or reason in the way the early chapters are arranged. They dart back and forth from one member of the family to another in a perversely unchronological manner.

That said, this is a vivid account, rich in incident and anecdote, of a most unhappy family: the self-made millionaire Karl was a frightening father, his wife an intimidated and cold mother; two or perhaps three of their five sons committed suicide and a fourth, Ludwig, frequently toyed with the idea of doing likewise. Only Paul, as will be seen, had a tough fighting quality under the most unpromising circumstances. Of the four daughters, one died in infancy; Hermine remained unhappily unmarried; the formidable Gretl, was unhappily married to a man who later also committed suicide; and Helene, though apparently "the most relaxed and settled of her siblings", "suffered from tensions of a pathological and neurotic kind". The siblings constantly got badly on each other's nerves, all pretty intolerant and highly critical of, though concerned for, each other. The only warm bond in the family was their playing music together; and even then the father disapproved of Paul becoming a professional pianist.

But only a year after Paul's debut the war broke out; he enlisted in the Austrian army, and within a month he had lost his right arm on the Russian front and became a prisoner of war. The Danish consul in Omsk got him moved from the hospital there to a hotel in which there was a piano; and Paul, fiercely determined to resume his career as a pianist, immediately started practising and transcribing piano pieces for the left hand only.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Gaius Baltar on 17 Aug. 2010
Format: Paperback
I was given this book as a present, and I did worry that it didn't sound like my sort of book, being the history of a family in Austria with only one family member I had heard of, and that person only as reference in the Monty Python Philosophers Song.

However, having now read it, I can say it is an absolutely fantastic book... really well written, a truly fascinating topic put in the most brilliant context and with a lightness and page-turningness (sorry) you would expect from a thriller, not a family history with three suicides, two deaths from cancer and a one-armed pianist.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By F. M. Palmer on 20 Dec. 2009
Format: Paperback
I was enthralled with this book throughout. The history of the family was one thing. Combined with the history of Austria it made a 'what will happen next?' un-put-downable book. And not fiction. All true and painstakingly reasearched and documented. Mr Waugh, you have my greatest admiration.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By King Brosby on 1 Dec. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book, partly because I've read a lot about and am interested in Ludwig Wittgenstein (the philosopher), but because the family drama was of a very rich group of people centered initially in Vienna who encountered WW1, post-WW1 hyperinflation, the 1929 crash and the devastation wrought by fascism and WW2. Of course it's critical that the family was judged to be Jewish following the 1938 Anschluss (union of Austria and Germany).

I agree with another reviewer who found the story hard to follow in the early chapters, eg because there were lots of relatives, ... but as the narrative settled down and focused on Paul and Gretl, and particularly on the 1930's as WW2 approached, the story became fascinating. Paul is the leading figure in the story, and he (one handed after a WW1 injury) built a career as a pianist, philanthropist and music sponsor.

The coverage of Ludwig Wittgenstein is limited. One would hardly guess that he was putatively one of the leading philosophers of the twentieth century, and the comments made seem to support the idea of his active homosexuality and the force of his temper (eg problems when school-teaching). I had not realised that Ludwig was so influenced by Tolstoys thought about the Gospel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER on 9 Jan. 2011
Format: Paperback
Alexander Waugh - of The House of Waugh: Famous Writers - has written a superb biography of a group of people who were related by blood but could not make a family together. The nine children of Austrian Karl Wittgenstein - one daughter died as a baby - were all born in the late 19th century and grew up fabulously wealthy in Vienna. Their father had amassed a huge fortune in business and the family enjoyed the fruits of his fortune. They shared a common interest in music and emotional weaknesses that made it difficult to maintain relationships with each other, or to many people outside the family.

The first two sons committed suicide in the early 20th century, a third disappeared and was presumed dead in the US, while a fourth killed himself at the end of WW1 in murky circumstances. So, three brothers dead of suicide and another never heard from again. The final two brothers - the two youngest - were strange birds themselves. Paul, who lost his right arm in action in WW1, was a pianist - all members of the family were musical - and performed special piano compositions with his left hand. He had a career of sorts in both Europe and the United States. The other son, Ludwig, was a famous philosopher, based mainly in Cambridge, England, but lived here and there during his adulthood, often taking menial jobs as a way of supporting himself and avoiding interaction with the world around him. Ludwig was gay and had many "crushes" and a few relationships but was mainly a loner. Paul, who was straight, waited til he was in his 50's to finally marry a woman 28 years younger than himself, with whom he had already fathered two daughters at the time of their marriage.

The three Wittgenstein sisters were equally as odd as their brothers.
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