The House of Wittgenstein
A Family at War
By Alexander Waugh
(Doubleday, Hardcover, 9780385520607, 352pp.)
Publication Date: February 24, 2009
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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.
Alexander Waugh tells this saga of baroque family unhappiness and perseverance against incredible odds with a novelistic richness to rival Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks.
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.