Over 600 pages Arnold relates his life story, from being a child growing up in postwar Austria to being one of the world’s biggest political magnates. Arnold fans will already know 95% of what’s here, but now they get to experience it with a little more filigree around the edges. There’s a lot of detail in here, and lot of stuff that’s interesting to know even though it’s too boring for the tabloids.
We learn more about Arnold’s role and duties in the Austrian army. There’s a funny story about him knocking down a wall with a tank. We hear the story of how he went AWOL – he sneaked out to compete at a bodybuilding show, won, returned with his trophy, and got thrown in jail – told yet again, as well his exposure to the reality of life as a poor bodybuilder (tip: gay for pay is an option you keep on the table.) Most of that was in his first book, Education of a Bodybuilder, but now it’s infused with extra detail and the honesty of long hindsight.
I don’t care much about politics or movies, so I didn’t pay as much attention to those parts of the books. What struck me mostly was the largeness of his ambition. Bodybuilding was and is a small scene, and soon he simply outgrew it. Another man in Arnold’s place might have just stayed right in that little pond, racking up trophy after trophy. But after a point you have to stop wondering whether you measure up to a goal, and start wondering whether the goal measures up to you…
We learn about his start in acting, from crappy movies to noncrappy movies to masterpieces like the first Terminator. Lots of behind-the-scenes stuff with everyone from Wilt Chamberlain to Dino De Laurentiis. He explains a lot about his reasoning and thought process, and why he sometimes participated in movies that he knew were bad (Red Sonja, Conan II.) Eventually, a woman called Maria enters the picture, and we learn so much about their wedding that we soon feel like uninvited guests at the reception.
The writing is decent, neither good nor bad. Frankly, the content of the book is so strong that it is simply impossible for Total Recall to fail. They could have drafted the night janitor at Gold’s Gym to ghostwrite Total Recall and it would still have been a good book. If you want anecdotes, you’ve got them. Each page contains enough anecdotes to power 3.5 cocktail parties, 4 if you factor in bathroom breaks.
As a tell-all book, yes, it does go into THAT. There’s not much about Arnold’s affair here that hasn’t been reported by the press. He just admits to everything and says that he’s sorry. One of the more boring parts of Total Recall…and probably by intention.
If you’re expecting to hear this book in your head in Arnold’s voice, you won’t. My only complaint is that there’s not much personality in the writing and storytelling of the book. Everything’s quite bland and political and chummy. There’s not a lot of the “personality” that you’d expect an autobiographical book to have. But maybe we can’t expect anything else from Arnold. He’s a human chameleon, capable of assuming any guise or role required of him. Now, he’s a biographer. An autobiographer in the technical sense, I suppose. But here it almost seems incidental that the story he’s telling is his own.