Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty
Science, Liberalism, and Private Life
Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty traces the vital and varied roles of science through the story of three generations of the eminent Exner family, whose members included Nobel Prize–winning biologist Karl Frisch, the teachers of Freud and of physicist Erwin Schrödinger, artists of the Vienna Secession, and a leader of Vienna’s women’s movement. Training her critical eye on the Exners through the rise and fall of Austrian liberalism and into the rise of the Third Reich, Deborah R. Coen demonstrates the interdependence of the family’s scientific and domestic lives, exploring the ways in which public notions of rationality, objectivity, and autonomy were formed in the private sphere. Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty presents the story of the Exners as a microcosm of the larger achievements and tragedies of Austrian political and scientific life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
“A remarkable portrait of a remarkable family in remarkable times: Deborah Coen turns the prodigiously talented Exner family into a microcosm of a distinctively Austrian brand of liberalism in fin-de-siècle Vienna. She deftly interweaves science and politics, family and landscape, aesthetics and medicine. As vivid as the Exners themselves is their core value of uncertainty—as scientific tool, metaphysical postulate, and moral stance. This is a fresh look at an extraordinarily creative milieu, in which reason and affect joined forces to forge a new way of thinking, feeling, and living.”
“Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty locates the particular quality of Austrian liberalism in its practitioners’ bold assertion of the moral value of probabilistic reasoning. Defying the absolutism of politically entrenched Catholic dogma and the relativism of radical skeptics, the professorial Exner family and its allies transformed the worlds of education, science, law, and politics in the century after 1848. Deborah Coen’s authoritative account traces the seamless connections between the family’s domestic experience and the unique character of its members’ scientific research and active civic engagement. She argues persuasively that the Exners’ family life, particularly their summers in the Austrian countryside, provided a critical foundation for their monumental achievements in science and politics. This stunning volume, imaginatively conceptualized, meticulously researched, and superbly realized, will transform historians’ thinking about European liberalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”