Synopses & Reviews
From Alexander Waugh, the author of the acclaimed memoir Fathers and Sons
, comes a grand saga of a brilliant and tragic Viennese family.
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 and playing compositions commissioned from Ravel and Prokofiev; 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 and 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.
"The story in this book is so gripping and fascinating that it is remarkable that it has never been told in this way before." Simon Heffer, Literary Review
"[A] diligently researched history....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.... His writing is brisk, confident and colourful....and the book is a pleasure to read." Noel Malcolm, Telegraph
"[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
"As much as the two world wars that changed their lives forever, it is surely this family feud -- the last of many squabbles among the siblings -- that Waugh is referring to in his ambiguous subtitle. The Wittgensteins were indeed a family at war: with their father, with one another, with themselves, but also, in Ludwig's case, with the whole milieu into which he had been born." Evelyn Toynton, Harper's Magazine
(Read the entire Harper's review
The Wittgenstein family of Vienna was one of the most gifted yet star-crossed clans of the twentieth century. Heirs to a vast steel fortune, the children faced parental opposition to their musical and literary ambitions. Two brothers would commit suicide as a result; one, Ludwig, would abandon engineering to become the century's most famous and enigmatic philosopher; and the fourth, Paul, would surmount the loss of a hand in the Great War to become the world's greatest left-handed pianist.
Alexander Waugh tells this saga of baroque family unhappiness and perseverance against incredible odds with a novelistic richness to rival Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks.
About the Author
Alexander Waugh is the grandson of Evelyn Waugh and the son of columnist Auberon Waugh and novelist Teresa Waugh. He lives in Somerset, England, with his wife and three children.