I found it to be an absorbing well-written book, but one story stood out from the others, and it has stayed with me ever since. According to the author, Ray Monk, after Wittgenstein wrote his Tractatus as a soldier during WWI, he felt that he had solved all the problems of philosophy and was finished with the subject for good. He took a job as a schoolteacher in a remote Austrian mountain village, but he proved unfit for the work. Sever, ill-tempered, even brutal, he scolded the children constantly and beat them when they failed to learn their lessons. Not just ritual spankings, but blows to the face and head, angry pummelings that wound up causing serious injuries to a number of children. Word got out about this outrageous conduct and Wittgenstein was forced to resign his post. Years went by, at least twenty years, if I'm not mistaken, and by the Wittgenstein was living in Cambridge, once again pursuing philosophy, by then a famous and respected man. For reasons I forget now, he went through a spiritual crisis and suffered a nervous breakdown. As he began to recover, he decided that the only way to restore his health was to march back into his past and humbly apologize to each person he had ever wronged or offended. He wanted to purge himself of the guilt that was festering inside him, to clear his conscience and make a fresh start. That road led him naturally back to the small mountain village in Austria. All his former pupils were adults now, men and women in their mid- and late twenties, and yet the memory of their violent schoolmaster had not dimmed with the years. One by one, Wittgenstein knocked on their doors and asked them to forgive him for his intolerable cruelty two decades earlier. With some of them, he literally fell to his knees and begged, imploring them to absolve him of the sins he had committed, but not a single man or woman was willing to pardon him. The pain had gone too deep and their hatred for him transcended all possibility of mercy.
The Brooklyn Follies, faber and faber, pág 60