Thursday, October 31, 2013

Book: Total Recall by Arnold Schwarzenegger


Wow. Arnie's autobiography is way better than I expected. "Total Recall" is written in a very basic and somewhat stilted style but that is also how Arnie speaks, so all the reader needs to do is imagine that it's Arnie's voice and the text rolls along like an in-depth interview.

With celebrity biographies of this nature, the reader has to expect bias, self-promotion, convenient omissions, etc. Since this is unavoidable in the genre we can't set a high bar of expectation in this respect. After all, why else do people of great fame and fortune write these things other than as vanity projects, setting records straight, leaving a legacy, etc?

Caveats aside, let’s get on to the good stuff.

Arnie's disciplined upbringing combined with his ambition, commercial focus, goal-driven orientation, genetic gifts and excellent people skills, to make a highly successful body-building star, businessman, actor and politician. The man seems to have lived several lives, and each one to the full.

There is no doubt that a self-reinforcement mechanism came into play early on with Arnie's endeavours - rule breaking and early successes fed his ego and confidence, helping him to believe that nothing was impossible. However, it is also clear that Arnie learned from his experiences and that he absorbed knowledge from the people around him like a sponge, learning a thousand little things along his various journeys and making many friends along the way. Arnie seems to have had an almost perfect blend of intelligence, pragmatism. For example, unlike many other body builders and movie stars, he would go out of his way to promote and sell his product, fully appreciating that you can’t just leave the product to speak for itself.

On the commerical side, Arnie had a bodybuilding pamphlet business, worked in a construction partnership with Franco Colombo, became a skilled property developer, he had a major stake in Planet Hollywood, and he even went on to become the first individual to buy and lease a 747 passenger plane (to Singapore Airlines)! In the movie world, he even managed to pull off a deal where he scored 20% of the gross for the movie Twins.

Interestingly, Arnie doesn't come across as having a grand plan beyond thinking one or two steps ahead and striving like hell to achieve these goals, the pursuit of which opened new doors of opportunity.

The broader theme of Total Recall is one of giving it your all, learning as much as you can from the people around you, making friends, and succeeding, where success is all about a clear end goal, be it collecting bodybuilding accolades, running businesses, acting, or running for office. He also had a very understanding and highly ambitious wife in Maria Shriver, who along with her parents comes across in the best possible light.

However, while there is much to admire, there are several elements to that take some of the shine off. As well as cheating on his wife, which sullies his characters quite significantly, Arnie's drive and sense of wining at almost any cost means that he could take things a little too. Examples include the various mind tricks that he played when in competition with other body builders (Sergio Oliva, Lou Ferrigno), to the underhanded marketing tricks he used when he worked construction jobs with Franco Colombo.

That said, we are all human, and you have to expect outcome orientated people to be more willing to bend the rules and codes of conduct when it comes to meeting their objectives.

I will post some passages from the book in another blog entry.

**** 1/2  - Read this book as a fan or for inspiration, not for role model advice. It looks like a real slab of a book but is actually a quick read. It also includes a great selection of photos from different stages of Arnie's life.

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