It is fitting that the illustrious house of Wittgenstein – largely remembered for Ludwig’s brilliance as a philosopher – is chronicled by Alexander Waugh. Himself a scion of a very public, larger-than-life dynasty, Waugh traces the lives of Vienna’s most prominent clan with the same candour that made his recent family autobiography such a treat.
Karl Wittgenstein, patriarch of this clan, was an iron and mining magnate well known in his lifetime for his “steely ambition” and wilful temperament. At 17, he ran away from home to seek his fortune in New York, eventually returning penniless and in disgrace. But the rebellious Karl would soon reinvent himself as a “self-made” business tycoon.
Of his nine children, eccentric Ludwig, with his “Christlike status among the philosophers of Cambridge”, is perhaps the most revered. But Waugh, a classical music buff, takes the pianist
Paul as his main protagonist. Sharp-tongued and gifted, Paul distinguished himself as a concert musician, working with the likes of Britten and Ravel even after losing an arm in the Great War. Despite the scale of both Paul and Ludwig’s achievements, their lives were
ill-fated and unhappy. Waugh’s clear-eyed account conveys the spirit of a bygone era with grace.