Schwarzenegger's muscle memories

Arnold Schwarzenegger discusses his book "Total Recall" at the Book Fair in Frankfurt, Germany, earlier this month.
Arnold Schwarzenegger discusses his book "Total Recall" at the Book Fair in Frankfurt, Germany, earlier this month. Michael Probs/AP Photo

"Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story"

by Arnold Schwarzenegger;

Simon & Schuster; 646 pages; $25

Perhaps it's fitting that the final chapter of Arnold Schwarzenegger's new memoir, "Total Recall," offers a set of "Arnold's Rules." After all, he had just spent the previous 601 pages making a pretty good case that he was exempt from the rules that applied to everyone else.

"I always wanted to be an inspiration for people, but I never set out to be a role model in everything," he declares in introducing his rules.

Anyone looking for an epiphany in his principles for success is likely to be disappointed. Most of them are about as original as one of those inspirational slogans on laminated wood at the county fair. "Never follow the crowd. Go where it's empty." "The day has 24 hours." "Never let pride get in your way."

Schwarzenegger and co-author Peter Petre keep the reader at arm's length throughout. The 646-page journey may be sufficiently satisfying for fans of his bodybuilding or action-movie career who are eager for backstories through a telephoto lens. What it does not possess is a level of introspection and candor that will rivet the reader who is not otherwise interested in bodybuilding, Hollywood or politics. Rare is the autobiography that dares to bear the subject's flaws in any revelatory way. This one is no exception, for all its detail about 1,000-pound calf raises and comedy lessons from Milton Berle.

The narrative does flow smoothly through his humble childhood in Austria, his elevation to Mr. Universe, his adjustment to American life as an immigrant, his transition to movies, his courtship of Maria Shriver, his exponential escalation of stardom, his business success and, of course, his venture into politics in the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election.

One of Arnold's Rules is "when someone tells you no, you should hear yes," and it certainly applied to his encounter with GOP guru Karl Rove at the White House in the early stages of the recall effort - and as some Republicans were tugging at Schwarzenegger to consider becoming a candidate. "It will never happen," Rove told Schwarzenegger. Rove then proceeded to do the political equivalent of kicking sand in Schwarzenegger's face by introducing Condoleezza Rice as "our candidate for 2006." Schwarzenegger translated Rove's comments into locker-room vernacular and vowed to prove him wrong. And, of course, he did.

The man who thought sheer will could allow him to conquer almost anything discovered its limits in the world of politics. He had his triumphs as governor - a landmark climate-change bill, workers' compensation reform, a prominent role in bringing about independent redistricting and a top-two primary to raise the prospects for centrists and problem solvers - but his defeats were nearly as profound.

Readers will find no surprises in the recounting of his affair with the longtime family housekeeper and their secret love child. Still, Schwarzenegger's account of being confronted by Shriver in front of their therapist, the day after he left office, is almost painful to read. "Secrecy is just part of me," he recalls saying for the benefit of the therapist (implicit is the notion that this was not news to Shriver). "I keep things to myself. I'm not a person who was brought up to talk."

The heft of the book hardly suggests the work of a man reluctant to talk. Talk? Yes. Reveal? Not so much. Readers are left without much to reconcile his effusive expressions of praise and admiration for Shriver with his acts of callous betrayal.

In Sacramento, unlike Hollywood, the good guys do not always prevail in the end. "Total Recall" has its moments of humor and breezy tales, but it preserves plenty of mystery about a man of myriad contradictions.

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