AF Book Review: Fantastic – The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger

More on the bodybuilder turned action star turned politician turned whatever he does now in moment, but first …

In as much as I’ve not been able to put a review on this blog about every book I’ve read this year, I’m glad that I’ve been able to post more reviews than ever before. I love my reading as you know, and I love my words and it’s good to keep trucking through with the variety of books I digest.

Before the enforced hiatus on the blog I read some shockers – now I know they were shockers because I went through the whole book before coming to the conclusion that the very existence of these books prove there’s a chance for anyone who can string two words together. What made it worse was that these books were on fairly decent footballers and made a mockery of the concept of the biography.

To be fair the Ally McCoist biography wasn’t that bad, but it did pander too much to the guy. The Alan Shearer biography was the real shocker. I’ve never read a hagiography like it in all my days of reading. It was such a job on the brother that it should have come with its own sick bag.

So when I came across the Arnold Schwarezenegger biography Fantastic by Laurence Leamer I was keen not to come into another slavish book showing how great he is. Although Leamer wants to establish that this book is unauthorised in the sense that the subject did not commission or have any editorial control over the work, he did allow himself to be interviewed for it and gave access to his people to also co-operate. This could smell a bit fishy to those looking for a completely independent work, but to his credit Leamer does not give a hagiography in this work.

He does this by treading that fine line of objective observation and presentation of information and then the subtle spin from his own views. The story of Schwarzenegger is one of single-minded pursuit of that which he believes is attainable and deserved. Not quite rags to riches it is a story of struggle and the consummate focus of the guy to succeed in bodybuilding, then in Hollywood before finally bucking the odds and becoming Governor of California.

His relentless pursuit not so much of fortune but definitely of glory is painted in a way that you would partly admire Arnie, but also sort of resent him not out of jealousy, but out of a view of him as selfish, conceited and in places unpleasant. The story of his rise to such a dominant position in bodybuilding is engrossing in how ruthless Arnie was – and didn’t need to be – to establish himself in a position where he is still considered an icon. The people he uses and opportunities he takes advantage to get to that place with no apparent comeback is a tale almost of crime paying! Leamer is not however leaving his biographical portrayal to a straightforward black and white case where the subject is the bad guy. He does a good job of exploring the motivating factors of childhood and how they shaped the guy.

It is a story of what needs to happen to get to the top of whatever profession one chooses to pursue and it’s not meant to be pretty all the time. That Schwarzenegger does that while shifting from one area to another is a credit to virtues that most people would admire – determination, skill, perseverance and being tenacious.

The story does follow a rollercoaster pattern starting from the low in Austria to the heights of being No. 1 in bodybuilding, to the low of starting out in movies, to the high of being one of the highest paid action stars, to the low of his later career stalling and accusations of sexual misconduct, to the high of turning his star name as a political ploy to gain the top job in one of the largest economies in the world.

The timing of the book is interesting in terms of how it doesn’t cover the all of his time as Governor. I’d be fascinated to see what Leamer would make of his entire tenure and what the Governator does outside office. That I would be fascinated is a testament to the good work Leamer does in painting the picture of a guy who at one turn is a family man apparently devoted to his wife and children and yet at the same time more than aware of what he wants to achieve even his wife is at first a bit nervous of the consequences.

This book is a good read for anyone interested in life – not just about movies, bodybuilding or politics.




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