The Baroness: The Search for Nica, the Rebellious Rothschild

Knopf  2013


This is a fascinating and gripping biography of Pannonica de Koenigswarter—née Rothschild—who was better known as Nica—the author's great-aunt. It describes the life and escapades of a woman who enjoyed living on the edge of a society—and indeed, a world—which was strictly segregated and racist. The book, written by a writer/producer of film documentaries in Great Britain, weaves a fascinating picture of an extraordinary member of a family that had built a financial empire in a rather fragile world which was in search of economic solvency.

The Rothschild dynasty was established by Mayer Amschel (1744-1812) whose five sons were dispatched by him to European financial centers, in order to establish and run a world-class financial empire. Nica had five children and 306 cats, drove a Bentley, was sentenced to three years in jail for doing drugs, and was a patroness of various black jazz musicians. In a way, she was both a libertarian and feminist, before either of those terms were in the popular lexicon.

There's much to be learned from this carefully etched and interesting book. For instance, Rothschild women were allowed to work in the family bank only as bookkeepers or archivists. You also come away from reading this book with the impression that there's something rather edgy about jazz music and the life which must be dedicated to its public performance. The book also serves as a tribute to the memory of the jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, whose handsomely striking photograph was on the cover of Time magazine February 29,1964. Acknowledgements, bibliography, index, interviews, lists of Nica-related songs, documentaries, film footage and archives and libraries visited, photos.

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