Total Recall

My Unbelievably True Life Story


  • On Amazon
  • ISBN: 978-1451662443
  • My Rating: 7/10

Total Recall is the autobiography of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is probably best known for his movie role as Terminator. He is not only a successful actor and businessman, but also a former professional bodybuilder and politician, who served two terms as Governor of California.

I found Total Recall an interesting read about a fascinating life story, as I only knew Arnold Schwarzenegger from some of his movies. The book was a bit too long with too many unnecessary details. And the part about his life as politician was rather boring. What he is really good at is selling himself, and you notice that throughout the book.

My notes

Out of Austria

I'm not sure why we had cats instead of dogs – maybe because my mother loved them and they cost nothing because they caught their own food.

We loved the cats, but never too much, because there was no such thing as going to the vet. If one of the cats started falling over from being too sick or too old, we'd wait to hear the shot from the backyard – the sound of my father's pistol.

To us, all this seemed totally normal: everybody's dad used physical punishment and came home drunk.

We were growing up among men who felt like a bunch of losers. Their generation had started World War II and lost. [...] They were angry. They tried to suppress the rage and humiliation, but disappointment was deep in their bones. Think about it: you are promised you will be a citizen of a great new empire. Every family will have the latest conveniences. Instead, you come home to a land in ruins, there's very little money, food is scarce, everything needs to be rebuilt. The occupying forces are there, so you're not even in charge of your country anymore. Worst of all, you have no way to process what you've experienced. How could you cope with that unbelievable trauma when no one was supposed to talk about it?

I paid for my amusements with money I earned from my first entrepreneurial venture, selling ice cream at the Thalersee in summer 1957. [...] Eventually my ice-cream earnings ran out, and being broke did not sit well with me. The solution I came up with that fall was panhandling. [...] The hole in my scheme was that a schoolkid alone on the street in the middle of a weekday was conspicuous. And a lot of people in Graz knew my father. Inevitably, somebody said to him, "I saw your son on the street in town today, asking a woman for money." This led to a huge uproar at home, with tremendous physical punishment, and that put an end to my panhandling career.

The discipline at school was no different from that at home. The teachers hit at least as hard as our parents.

Building a Body

The most important skill I acquired [during the apprenticeship] was selling. A cardinal rule was never to let a customer walk out the door without a purchase. If you did, it just showed what a poor salesman you were. Even if it was just one little bolt, you had to make a sale.

Confessions of a Tank Driver

My tank was gone! I looked around and found it twenty or thirty feet away, sticking tail-up in the water. The nose was submerged, and the cannon was stuck down into the mud. I'd forgotten to apply the big brake, it turned out, and the ground was sloped just enough that the tank had slowly rolled away as we slept.

I could be a risk even in the tank garage. One morning I started my tank, adjusted my seat, and turned to check the gauges before pulling out. The readings were fine, but I felt the tank shaking a little, like the engine was running rough. I thought, "Maybe you should give it a little gas to smooth it out." So I gave it gas, keeping an eye on the gauges, but the shaking only got worse. This was very odd. Then I noticed that dust was coming down. I lookup up out of the hatch and realized that instead of just revving the engine, I'd set the tank in motion and was pushing it through the garage wall. That's what was causing the shaking.

He made the mistake of bragging that his tank was faster than mine. Finally I challenged him to prove it, and we both took off down the ridge. I would have stopped – a voice of reason in my head told me to – but I was winning. The rest of the guys in my tank were going nuts. I heard someone shouting at me to stop, but I thought it was just the other tank driver trying to get the advantage. When I got to the bottom of the ridge, I stopped and looked back for the M60. That was when I noticed a soldier clinging to our turret as if his life depended on it. He and a couple of other infantry had been sitting on the tank when I took off. The others had either jumped off or fallen; he was the only one who'd been able to hang on to the end.

I parked the tank where he had pointed. Climbing out, I noticed that I was standing in deep, thick mud. "Now, Tank Driver Schwarzenegger, I want you to crawl down under the length of your tank. When you come out the back, climb up on top, down through the turret, down through the hull, and out of your emergency hatch below. Then do it again." He ordered me to repeat that circuit fifty times. By the time I had finished, four hours later, I was coated with twenty pounds of mud and could barely move. I must have smeared one hundred more pounds of mud inside the tank climbing through. Then I had to drive it back to base and clean it out. The guy could have thrown me in jail for a week, but I must admit that this was a more effective punishment.

Mr. Universe

The beer itself didn't really appeal to me because it would interfere with training; I rarely drank more than one in a night. But I was totally into the fights. I felt like I was discovering new power every day and was huge and strong and unstoppable. There was not a lot of thinking involved. If a guy looked at me in a weird way or challenged me for whatever reason, I'd be in his face. I'd give him the shock treatment: I'd rip off my shirt to reveal my tank top underneath and then I'd punch him out. Or sometimes when he saw me he'd just say, "Oh, what the hell. Why don't we just get a beer?"

For the first few months in Munich, I let myself get carried away by nightlife and fun. But then I realized I was losing focus, and I started disciplining myself. The goal was not to have fun but to become the world champion in bodybuilding.

Then it hit me: Chet Yorton had ended up on that pedestal, not me. He'd earned the victory, but I thought I'd made a big mistake. What if I had gone to London intending to win? Would I have prepared better? Would I have performed better? Would I have won and now be Mr. Universe? Instead, I'd underestimated my chances. I didn't like the way this made me feel and worked myself into quite a state. It really taught me a lesson. After that, I never went to a competition to compete. I went to win.

"Leave no stone unturned" was my rule. And while there wasn't any evidence of danger – research into steroids' side effects was only getting under way – even if there had been, I'm not sure I would have cared. Downhill ski champions and Formula One race drivers know they can get killed, but they compete anyway. Because if you don't get killed, you win. Besides, I was twenty years old, and I thought I would never die.

Bodybuilding was still so obscure and considered so weird that winning the championship made no splash at all outside the gyms. I'd gotten more celebrity from lifting the heavy stone in the beer hall.

Greetings from Los Angeles

The challenge was to take the curse off all those weak points. It's human nature to work on the things that we are good at. If you have big biceps, you want to do an endless number of curls because it's so satisfying to see this major bicep flex. To be successful, however, you must be brutal with yourself and focus on the flaws. That's when your eye, your honesty, and your ability to listen to others come in. Bodybuilders who are blind to themselves or deaf to others usually fall behind.

Lazy Bastards

We were very happy in the apartment – until the landlord kicked us out. He knocked on the door one day and said we had to leave because it was only a one-bedroom. It was considered suspicious in those days in Southern California to have two guys sleeping in a one-bedroom place.

When they edited the film [Hercules in New York], they dubbed another actor's voice over mine, because my accent was too thick for anybody to understand.

Experts in Marble and Stone

I also launched a mail-order business out of my apartment. It grew out of the fan mail I was getting. People wanted to know how I trained my arms, my chest. And they asked how they could get fit themselves. I couldn't answer all these letters, so in the beginning, I got the writers at the magazine to help me with standard letters that I could send out. That gave me the idea of selling a series of booklets.

Soon I started another business, this time with Franco. [...] Franco knew bricklaying, and I knew business. So that's what we did. We put an ad in the newspaper that said "European bricklayers. Experts in marble and stone."

For extra hands, we recruited bodybuilders off the beach – at one point, we had fifteen of them mixing cement and carrying bricks. It was a very funny sight, but we couldn't depend on the bodybuilders. They couldn't handle working every day. Just like Joe said, some of those guys were lazy bastards.

Once each week we would choose an unfamiliar exercise and each do sets and reps until we couldn't do any more. Then we'd analyze the next day which muscles and sections of muscles were sore, and note it down. Working this way, we spent an entire year making a systematic survey of our bodies and building an inventory of hundreds of exercises and techniques.

A key discovery we made was that you can't just copy someone else's routine, because everyone's body is different. [...] You can take an idea from another athlete, but you have to understand that your body may respond very differently from his or hers.

Learning American

The owner came to take our order, and I said, "I saw this one thing here on the menu which I like. Give me some of your garbage." - "What did you call my food?" - "Just bring me some of your garbage." Artie jumped in right away. "He's from Austria", he explained. "He means the cabbage."

If I'd thought there would be a serious challenge to my dominance, I'd have stayed 100 percent focused on bodybuilding. But there was nobody on the radar. So I diverted some of my energy to other ambitions.

I always wrote down my goals [...]. It wasn't sufficient just to tell myself something like "My New Year's resolution is to lose twenty pounds and learn better English and read a little bit more". No. That was only a start. Now I had to make it very specific so that all those fine intentions were not just floating around. [...] It might seem like I was handcuffing myself by setting such specific goals, but it was actually just the opposite: I found it liberating. Knowing exactly where I wanted to end up freed me totally to improvise how to get there.

[...] a degree wasn't my objective; I only needed to study as much as I could in my available time and learn how Americans did business.

I learned that staying on top of the hill is harder than climbing it.

Often it's easier to make a decision when you don't know as much, because then you can't overthink. If you know too much, it can freeze you.

The Greatest Muscle Show Ever


Stay Hungry

I knew I had a strange body. I knew my name was hard to spell – but so was Gina Lollobrigida's! Why should I give up my goal because a couple of Hollywood agents turned me down?

Pumping Iron

I was very glad I could afford to say no. With the income from my businesses, I didn't need money from acting. I never wanted to be in a financially vulnerable position, where I had to take a part I didn't like.

You could argue that, no matter what the part, being in front of a camera was always good practice. But I felt that I was born to be a leading man. I had to be on the posters, I had to be the one carrying the movie. Of course I realized that this sounded crazy to everybody but me. But I believed that the only way you become a leading man is by treating yourself like a leading man and working your ass off. If you don't believe in yourself, then how will anyone else believe in you?

By promoting Pumping Iron and bodybuilding, I was also promoting myself. Every time I was on the radio or TV, people became a little more familiar with my accent, the Arnold way of talking, and a little more comfortable and at ease with me. The effect was the opposite of what the Hollywood agents had warned. I was making my size, accent, and funny name into assets instead of peculiarities that put people off. Before long people were able to recognize me without seeing me, just by name or by the sound of my voice.

Dream Girl


Maria and Me

I'd always advanced by starting with a clear vision and working as hard as possible to achieve it [...].

What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Stronger

I saw myself as a businessman first. Too many actors, writers, and artists think that marketing is beneath them. But no matter what you do in life, selling is part of it.

Becoming American

When I wanted to know more about business and politics, I used the same approach I did when I wanted to learn about acting: I got to know as many people as I could who were really good at it.

The Terminator

I didn't quite realize how successful it was until I got back to the United States and some people stopped me walking down the street in New York. "Oh man, we just saw The Terminator. Say it! Say it! You've got to say it!" - "What?" - "You know, 'I'll be back!'" None of us involved in making the movie had any idea that this was going to be the line people remembered. When you make a movie, you can never really predict what will turn out to be the most repeated line.

Marriage and Movies

You can overthink anything. There are always negatives. The more you know, the less you tend to do something. If I had known everything about real estate, movies, and bodybuilding, I wouldn't have gone into them.

I'm always comparing life to a climb, not just because there's struggle but also because I find at least as much joy in the climbing as in reaching the top.

Whenever I finished filming a movie, I felt my job was only half done. Every film had to be nurtured in the marketplace. You can have the greatest movie in the world, but if you don't get it out there, if people don't know about it, you have nothing.

Comic Timing


The Real Life of a Terminator


The Last Action Hero

You can't have people just like your movie, you need them to be passionate. Word of mouth is what makes movies big, because while you can put in $25 million or $30 million to promote the movie on the first weekend, you can't afford to keep doing that every week.

No matter what you tell yourself or what you know, at the time you're going through it, it is bad. It's embarrassing to fail at the box office and have your movie not open well. It's embarrassing to have terrible stories written about you. It's embarrassing to have people start calling this your year to fail.

Heart Trouble

Offshore corporations and other gimmicks didn't interest me; I was proud to pay taxes on the money I earned. The more we paid the better, in fact, because it showed I was making more money.

The plane we ended up with cost $147 million. [...] We signed all kinds of confidentiality agreements, of course, but the banks couldn't help themselves, and the news leaked the first day. I loved it because everybody thought I had bought the 747 to fly around in, like the sheik of Dubai. It didn't dawn on anyone that we'd do such an outlandish deal as an investment.

I'm a person who does not like to talk about things over and over. I make decisions very quickly, I don't ask many people for opinions, and I don't want to think too many times about the same thing. I want to move on.

Family Guy


A Political Proposition

I never argued with people who underestimated me. If the accent and the muscles and the movies made people think I was stupid, it worked to my advantage.

[...] I love it when people say that something can't be done. That's when I really get motivated; I like to prove them wrong.

Total Recall


The Governator




Who Needs Washington


The Real Life of a Governator

[...] compared to making a movie, when you do accomplish something in government, the satisfaction is so much larger and long lasting. In a movie, you are entertaining people for a few hours in a dark theater. In government, you are affecting entire lives; generations, even.

The Secret

It's not what you get out of life that counts. Break your mirrors! In our society that is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourself and more at each other. You'll get more satisfaction from having improved your neighborhood, your town, your state, your country, and your fellow human beings than you'll ever get from your muscles, your figure, your automobile, your house, or your credit rating. You'll get more from being a peacemaker than a warrior.

Sargent "Sarge" Shriver

The great leaders always talk about things that are much bigger than themselves. They say working for a cause that will outlive us is what brings meaning and joy. The more I'm able to accomplish in the world, the more I agree.

Arnold's Rules

When I talk to graduating classes, I always tell a brief version of the story of my life and try to offer lessons everybody can use: have a vision, trust yourself, break some rules, ignore the naysayers, don't be afraid to fail.

The only way to make the possible possible is to try the impossible. If you fail, so what? That's what everybody expects. But if you succeed, you make the world a much better place.

To test yourself and grow, you have to operate without a safety net.

If you're anxious, instead of making fallback plans, think about the worst that can happen if you fail. How bad would it be? You quickly find out it's really nothing.

Be hungry for success, hungry to make your mark, hungry to be seen and to be heard and to have an effect. And as you move up and become successful, make sure also to be hungry for helping others.