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The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War [Spanish] [Hardcover]

Alexander Waugh
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

15 Sep 2008
The Wittgenstein family was one of the richest, most talented and most eccentric in European history. Karl Wittgenstein, who ran away from home as a wayward and rebellious youth, returned to his native Vienna to make a fortune in the iron and steel industries. He bought factories and paintings and palaces, but the domineering and overbearing influence he exerted over his eight children resulted in a generation of siblings fraught by inner antagonisms and nervous tension. Three of his sons committed suicide; Paul, the fourth, became a world-famous concert pianist (using only his left hand), while Ludwig, the youngest, is now regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century.In this dramatic historical and psychological epic, Alexander Waugh traces the triumphs and vicissitudes of a family held together by a fanatical love of music yet torn apart by money, madness, conflicts of loyalty and the cataclysmic upheaval of two world wars. Through the bleak despair of a Siberian prison camp to the terror of a Gestapo interrogation room, one courageous and unlikely hero emerges from the rubble of the house of Wittgenstein in the figure of Paul, an extraordinary testament to the indomitable spirit of human survival.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (15 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747591857
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747591856
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 14.8 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 504,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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'A work of real discovery and rollicking narrative. This is a memorable biography, not to be missed' -- Evening Standard

'His writing is brisk, confident and colourful, but without striving for effect, and the book is a pleasure to read' -- Daily Telegraph

`This book has a wonderful subject and Alexander Waugh, with originality and panache, soon engages us with it at numerous levels ...' -- Daily Telegraph

`This is a magnificently refreshing and invigorating volume which deserves a wide readership'
-- Independent

`Waugh's history is assiduously researched and pacily written, at times to the point of being slangy ...' -- Sunday Times

`eminently readable, meticulously researched' -- Terry Eagleton, Guardian

About the Author

Alexander Waugh 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 (a history of his literary antecedents), Time and God. He reviews regularly for national newspapers and magazines and has made television programmes for the BBC.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ludwig Wittgenstein unmasked 4 Aug 2009
By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER
I read this book on an impulse, having recently become interested in philosophy. However, Ludwig Wittgenstein, although perhaps the most famous member of the family, was not allowed to dominate the tale.

This was more than just the biography of a family, but a window on Viennese life in the dying days of the Hapsburg Empire leading to the Nazi occupation and its aftermath. The story is full of entertaining anecdotes, and reads like a novel. In some ways, the main character, possibly the one with whom the musical author most empathises, is the pianist Paul. He typified the extraordinary determination and eccentricity which marked the dynasty, by succeeding in his driven ambition to become an internationally renowned concert pianist, despite the loss of his left hand in the First World War. Another interesting aspect was the way in which the family used its great wealth, with a strange mixture of philanthropy and greed, only to face the terrible levelling of being deemed Jewish under the Nazi regime. Yet again, the neurosis which bedevilled such an initially privileged group of people is well-explored.

The beautifully translated exchanges between the family members, as recorded in letters, make fascinating reading.

I fear I shall never be able to take Ludwig seriously as a philosopher again, since even he seemed to feel that much of his writing did not make sense, and it appears that his reputation is founded on the magnetic attraction he exerted on the male Cambridge academics of the day. He is portrayed as what we would call bi-polar with some individual and laudable ideas e.g. about the damaging effects of wealth, marred by at times bizarre behaviour e.g. resolving to become a teacher for altruistic reasons, only to beat unconscious a pupil who failed to meet his exacting standards.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A tortured family 25 Oct 2009
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
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. Indeed, in 1916, thirteen months after he had reached home as the result of an exchange of wounded prisoners, he gave his first performance in a public concert. He then insisted on rejoining the army, and the end of the war saw the three surviving brothers on the Italian front, where Paul was invalided out (probably with Spanish flu), Kurt shot himself, and Ludwig was taken prisoner.

It was from prison that Ludwig via the Red Cross sent to Bertrand Russell the manuscript of the Tractatus, the philosophical treatise which, in due course, was to make him by far the most famous of the Wittgenstein brothers. His career and eccentricities are rather sketchily described here. Waugh, in contrast to the attention he pays to Paul's achievements in music, makes no attempt to explain those of Ludwig, altogether devoting to him a fraction of the space he devotes to Paul. Although Ludwig's career is amply chronicled elsewhere (notably in Ray Monk's biography - see my review), some readers will find Waugh's treatment of Ludwig distinctly cavalier.

That Ravel composed a concerto especially for Paul (and a fraught birth it was) is well-known; less well known that there were several other composers (including Hindemith, Prokofiev, Britten and others who were famous in their time though less well-known today) who did the same; and Paul performed to great acclaim and under the most distinguished conductors all over the world, from Los Angeles to Moscow. In his personal behaviour he was as wildly eccentric and as liable to lose his temper as was Ludwig.

In 1938 the Nazis took over Austria. Three of the siblings' grandparents, though converts to Catholicism, were Jewish-born; according to the Nazi racial laws, that made the whole family, with its antisemitic prejudices, `full Jews'. Paul, who was an ardent and right-wing Austrian patriot, vainly claimed that he was `only' a half-Jew (who were at that time spared the full rigours of the treatment accorded to `full Jews') on the grounds that his Wittgenstein grandfather, born in 1802, was reputed to be the illegitimate offspring of a German princeling. When the Nazis discovered that he had a non-Jewish mistress who has born him two children, he was liable to additional penalties for miscegenation. The saga of Paul's subsequent escape to America via Switzerland, of the Nazi discovery of the attempt by his elderly sisters Hermine and Helene to escape with forged passports (Gretl had become an American citizen), and of the fraught negotiations with the Germans but also within the family - not to allow them to emigrate, but to have them classified as `half-Jews' - in exchange for huge sums of money, is told in heart-stopping detail. Everything depended on the agreement of Paul (and, for that matter, of Hitler personally). Paul eventually gave in to family pressure, and Hermine and Helene lived unmolested in Vienna all through the war. Paul never spoke to Gretl or Ludwig again, nor did he visit the dying Hermine or Helene when he was in Vienna in 1949 to play in a concert.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb story of brilliant, troubled, family. 30 Jan 2014
By Marvin McConoughey - Published on Amazon.com
I liked the book because it brought to life a historically important family from the pre, during, and post-war era. The Wittgenstein family included brilliant financial, musical, and philosophical talents, all of whom led troubled lives with much intra-family discord and intrigues. The Wittgensteins had the bad luck to live during WWII where their Jewish blood became the basis for much tragedy and ill-treatment by the Nazi's. Some Wittgensteins came to America and others to England. Several were killed or deeply wounded in combat. Paul Wittgenstein, the family's pianist genius, lost his arm and became a one-handed musical success for a time. Waugh makes clear the Austrian pro-Hitler attitudes at the war's beginning, and their about-face as the war became a disaster to Austria.

I bought the book to learn more of the family into which the philosopher and one-time architectural designer Ludwig Wittgenstein was born. The book helped me to understand his talented, but deeply troubled life. The writing quality of author Alexander Waugh is superb--complex as befits the complexity of the Wittgenstein family and their times, but clear in the delineation of the equally complex natures of the discordant members of this talented but unfortunate family. Highly recommended for those who have an interest in the Wittgensteins or their times.
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