Skin-deep treatment of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rise and rise.
Kennedy family biographer Leamer (Sons of Camelot, 2004, etc.) re-creates their most famous in-law as a shallow and aggrandizing man—pretty much like the persona Schwarzenegger has already created for himself. While a boy growing up in Austria, Arnold was overshadowed by a winsome brother, nurtured by a protective mother and beaten by a brutish father. Admittedly not a reader, the youngster trained his body into enormity so he could do one thing: leave Austria and become a star. Schwarzenegger achieved his goal and shrewdly conquered the worlds of bodybuilding and feature films before capitalizing on the opportunity to live out his dream of American civic duty. Leamer halfheartedly dresses this cocky suprahuman in an underdog’s cloak of self-deprecation, shilling anecdotes about Schwarzenegger’s crippling need to be admired. Entertaining if farcical tales about Conan the Barbarian and Terminator soon reach the same editorialized conclusion: that it was Schwarzenegger alone who made these movies successful. Leamer dispenses casual nods to hot topics like Arnold’s steroid use and aggressive womanizing, but each time he’s exonerated with a shrug. Meanwhile, the author’s assurances that his subject is not anti-Semitic, which take Arnold’s crush on a married Jewish woman, and dealings with Jewish associates as enough to disprove prejudice, similarly duck an issue that could have made this an interesting consideration of contemporary immigrant success. Leamer’s refusal to write with a critical eye means that Schwarzenegger’s true self remains unknown. Stories from those who do know him fumble inelegantly across the page without finesse, as do superfluous nuggets concerning political rivals. The author concedes that Arnold Schwarzenegger is a man who cannot be told the truth. It’s a moment of rare candor in a biography that mostly settles for skimming the surface.