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the Complete Review
the complete review - biography

The House of Wittgenstein

Alexander Waugh

[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]

general information | review summaries | links | about the author

To purchase The House of Wittgenstein

Title: The House of Wittgenstein
Author: Alexander Waugh
Genre: Biography
Written: 2008
Length: 352 pages
Availability: The House of Wittgenstein - US
The House of Wittgenstein - UK
  • A Family at War

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

Have read enough about the family

Chances that we will review it:

Very slim

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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 4-5/2009 Marjorie Perloff
The Guardian . 8/11/2008 Terry Eagleton
The Independent A 26/9/2008 Frank McLynn
Literary Review A+ 9/2008 Simon Heffer
London Rev. of Books B- 4/12/2008 Adam Phillips
New Statesman . 30/10/2008 Yo Zushi
The New Yorker . 6/4/2009 Anthony Gottlieb
The NY Times . 10/4/2009 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. . 1/3/2009 Jim Holt
The Spectator . 17/9/2008 Jonathan Mirsky
Sunday Times . 14/9/2008 Kevin Jackson
The Telegraph A 11/9/2008 Noel Malcolm
The Telegraph B- 13/9/2008
Wall St. Journal . 28/2/2009 James F. Penrose

  Review Consensus:

  Not quite a consensus -- and most think he doesn't take Ludwig's philosophy seriously enough

  From the Reviews:
  • "In Waugh’s telling, no one comes off well (.....) The difficulty is that Waugh’s book gives no evidence of any real grounding in the history and culture of fin de siècle, much less postwar, Vienna. The information -- facts, dates, the furnishings of the various Wittgenstein properties, specific Nazi edicts -- is all there, but the richness and complexity of this culture, the texture so brilliantly chronicled by Karl Kraus or, more recently, by Brigitte Hamann in Hitler’s Vienna, is missing. (...) The House of Wittgenstein might have been a much more interesting book had it focused on the differences, rather than the similarities, between Ludwig and the other Wittgensteins." - Marjorie Perloff, Bookforum

  • "Alexander Waugh's eminently readable, meticulously researched account of the Wittgenstein madhouse might have speculated a bit more on how this background helped to shape the most celebrated of all the Wittgensteins. It certainly casts some light on Ludwig's extraordinary contradictions." - Terry Eagleton, The Guardian

  • "Waugh seems bored by philosophy, and if late Wittgenstein is at issue, who can blame him ? But his book in general is marvellous, a sharp combination of some formidable scholarship in the German sources with a wonderful eye for absurdity. This is a magnificently refreshing and invigorating volume which deserves a wide readership." - Frank McLynn, The Independent

  • "The story in this book is so gripping and fascinating that it is remarkable that it has never been told in this way before. It is probably just as well, for it is hard to imagine another account showing such fluency, wit and attention to detail as Alexander Waugh's." - Simon Heffer, Literary Review

  • "One of the reasons a book like Waugh’s should be useful is that Wittgenstein’s philosophy is so much about trying to understand what he has inherited: the languages, the conventions he was born into, and what he could and could not use them to do. (...) By refusing to make such connections, and by being so disdainful of Wittgenstein’s reputation as a philosopher, Waugh leaves us always wondering what the point of his story is (.....) The House of Wittgenstein gives a crass picture of a terrible family tragedy. Waugh does far better with the money side of things, because he is freer to be jokey, and because money is the thing that binds the narratives together." - Adam Phillips, London Review of Books

  • "Waugh’s clear-eyed account conveys the spirit of a bygone era with grace." - Yo Zushi, New Statesman

  • "Given Mr. Waugh’s narrative gifts and the melodramatics of the Wittgensteins’ story, this volume is never less than interesting. Although the book bogs down in the middle, its opening chapters are gripping, as Mr. Waugh deftly conjures the ambience of pre-World War I Vienna and recounts the early tragedies that would forever scar the House of Wittgenstein. (...) Mr. Waugh has written a lively, sometimes fascinating book, but one that lacks the emotional and psychological depth that he brought to his account of his own perplexing and uncommon family." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "Who better to chronicle such a clan than Alexander Waugh, himself the scion of a distinguished and colorful family ? In his previous book, Fathers and Sons, Waugh wrote with a fine comic touch about his grandfather Evelyn and his father, Auberon. Here he moves from a farcical to a tragic vein. Yet the Wittgensteins, for all their Sturm und Drang, can be as funny as the Waughs. (...) Ludwig may be the famous Wittgenstein today, but it’s the now forgotten Paul who looms largest in this book. (...) My only serious complaint about the book concerns Waugh’s glancing treatment of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philo­sophical work." - Jim Holt, The New York Times Book Review

  • "I take notes in books for review and in this one I wrote ‘nuts’ 23 times. (...) If the Wittgensteins hadn’t been so rich, and if they hadn’t included the notorious Ludwig, admired by Bertrand Russell, who admitted he didn’t understand what this exotic Austrian was saying, I doubt if Alexander Waugh would have put in the enormous, meticulous effort involved in his comprehensively sourced book." - Jonathan Mirsky, The Spectator

  • "Waugh's history is assiduously researched and pacily written, at times to the point of being slangy. (...) Its chief virtue is that it pays due respect not merely to Paul Wittgenstein's talent and courage but to what earlier generations would have called his "gallantry" " - Kevin Jackson, Sunday Times

  • "Alexander Waugh's rich and wide-ranging study, The House of Wittgenstein, weaves together the stories of many of Ludwig's siblings and other relatives, but at its core is the biography of the pianist Paul Wittgenstein. (...) Much in this book, indeed, is the fruit of original research in archives and private collections; Waugh has done a masterly job, untangling a mass of financial and psychological complexities, while never over-encumbering the central, personal stories. His writing is brisk, confident and colourful, but without striving for effect, and the book is a pleasure to read." - Noel Malcolm, The Telegraph

  • "Up to this halfway point the book is captivating. Waugh has a taut and droll tone, reminiscent of the French books of Nancy Mitford. Then he throws it all away by letting himself be taken over by Paul Wittgenstein. Paul was a bore. So was Ludwig, of course, but at least he led to something beyond himself when he published Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in 1921." - Duncan Fallowell, The Telegraph

  • "Alexander Waugh's grimly amusing The House of Wittgenstein shows how the family fortune was lost and how the family members themselves, despite instances of prodigious talent and accomplishment, found little happiness in their own lives or pleasure in their sibling relations. (...) The House of Wittgenstein is less a chronicle of lost riches than a study of personalities, and it shows us that qualities of brilliance and sensitivity are not by themselves enough to allow a family to survive the ravages of historical circumstance or simple bad judgment." - James F. Penrose, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The House of Wittgenstein: Reviews: Ludwig Wittgenstein: Alexander Waugh: Other books about Ludwig Wittgenstein under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Alexander Waugh is a British author.

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