When Batsheva de Rothschild, who runs a dance company in Tel Aviv, was touring in Kenya recently, she was asked at a press conference for her name. ‘Rothschild,’ she said. ‘Ah yes,’ came the rather surprising reply, ‘just like our giraffe.’ And indeed the local five horned giraffe is named after a member of the family, the eccentric Walter Rothschild who devoted his life to obscure scientific research and ended his days in tragedy when he was ruined by a blackmailing peeress and compelled to sell to Americans his beloved collection of 295,000 stuffed birds.
So much for the legend of the all powerful Rothschilds who control the whole world behind the scenes: many have led powerless and even rather sad lives, although the story does reveal their obsessive energy and the way they turn up in the most unexpected places. Since the more mainstream Rothschild men devoted their talents to acquiring money and mistresses, race horses and objets d’art, Derek Wilson’s account of the family reads like a great Jewish soap opera.
It is easy to enjoy the rather confusing abundance of playboys and powerbrokers, distant cousins and dynastic marriages. Yet the Rothschild story also touches on all the crucial and