|Illustration by Jillian Tamaki|
Arnold Schwarzenegger: By the Book
THE NEW YORK TIMES, December 27, 2012
The actor, former governor and author of the memoir “Total Recall” says today’s cleaned-up versions of Grimms’ fairy tales are nothing like the horror versions he read as a child.
What book is on your night stand now?
Right now I’m reading a book called "Incognito," by David Eagleman, about the human brain. I’ve always been interested in psychology, so learning about the things that influence our thinking is really important for me. In bodybuilding, I was known for “psyching” out my opponents with mind tricks. I wish I had this book then because the stuff I was doing was Mickey Mouse compared with what’s in this book.
What was the last truly great book you read?
Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. I absolutely love to hear stories about people who have tremendous vision; and when you talk about vision, Steve Jobs has to be in the conversation. He was such a revolutionary. It is completely inspirational to read about someone who saw the world, imagined something better, and then went out and made his vision a reality.
I got to know Steve when I was governor of California, and he wanted to help pass a law to encourage organ donation. A lot of people have the drive to be successful, but not the same drive to give back once they’ve found success. Steve saw what it was like to desperately need an organ, and he could have easily just paid for his operation and been done with it. Instead, he came with his big vision and wanted to rewrite the laws to make it easier. He did the necessary work, and we were able to hammer out a law and push it through. I think that his compassion should be a bigger part of his legacy. His story is the ultimate California dream.
What is your favorite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?
I prefer nonfiction, especially biographies and history books. You could spend your whole life reading history and you would still have several more lifetimes’ worth of learning to do. I don’t have much time in my schedule to read, so when I have a chance to sit down and get into a book, I want to make sure it is a story of greatness that inspires and teaches.
Some of my favorite books about politics are Reagan’s autobiography “An American Life” as well as Lou Cannon’s incredible anthology about him, and James Wooten’s “Dasher: The Roots and the Rising of Jimmy Carter.” Of course I have mentioned many times how much Milton and Rose Friedman’s “Free to Choose” contributed to my economic views.
And what books would you suggest to an aspiring governor?
I think Doris Kearns Goodwin’s "Team of Rivals" is incredibly important. Today’s politicians can learn so much from Lincoln. I think the most important lesson is that, despite our politics, we should never treat each other as enemies. We can have disagreements about the direction of the country, but at the end of the day we all want to serve our country. Lincoln proved a powerful lesson by appointing his critics and political foes to his cabinet. He wanted the best minds around him offering advice. Not Republican or Democrat minds. Just the best minds. All of us can learn from that.
Are there any books you found to be particularly insightful about California?
I think any of Kevin Starr’s books fit the bill. No one — no one — knows California like Kevin Starr. When I ran for governor, I read binder after binder of briefings, but none of it taught me as much as one lunch with Kevin. He is an incredible historian, and he writes in a way that always makes what he’s saying interesting. To this day, every time I see Kevin, I learn something new.
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
I could never choose one book for a president. There are so many things you need to learn. I would have to say, “Here is a book about Eisenhower building the highway system, so you can read about the vision it takes to build up our country, because we need to build again. Here is a book about how we developed our current energy policy, because we need to learn from that as we plan for our future energy needs.” Then I would give them a kindergarten teacher’s manual and let them know, “You’re going to need this when you deal with Congress.”
What were your favorite books as a child? Did you have a favorite character or hero?
When I was young, we were constantly exposed to the works of Peter Rosegger, who was a hero in Styria, my home state. He wrote incredible stories with a focus on our region, so he was one of the favorites.
We also constantly read these terribly violent stories by the Grimm Brothers. I mean, the cleaned-up versions of these are nowhere near the horror stories we used to read. It’s no wonder my brother was a total scaredy-cat and afraid to walk home alone after you realize he had been exposed to the tales of the Grimm Brothers.
But I have to say that Karl May wrote my favorite stories. He was a German who had never seen a real cowboy or Indian, but somehow he wrote fantastic stories about this wise Apache chief named Winnetou and his cowboy friend Old Shatterhand. The stories taught me a powerful lesson about getting along despite differences, but more importantly, they opened up my world and gave me a window to see America. I still don’t understand how Karl May was able to paint such an incredible picture of something he had never seen, but I do know that the cowboy stories immediately captured my attention and made me interested to learn everything I could about America.
If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?
Winston Churchill. He is one of my heroes, and when I look at all of the books he somehow had time to write, it just blows my mind. To be such a vital figure in modern history and at the same time write incredible history . . . I would love to talk to him about how he had time to be great as a leader and as a writer. If there is one person who shows us the power of history, it has to be him. It’s an old cliché that history repeats himself, but when you read Churchill’s speeches attacking the idea of appeasing Hitler or warning about the cold war, you realize how brilliant he was. He was ahead of the game, which is a funny thing to say about someone who spent his spare time writing and researching history.
What’s the best movie based on a book you’ve seen recently?
I love everything about the “Harry Potter” franchise. You have an incredible, epic journey with amazing characters that I think plays just as well on the screen as it does on the page. But I’m also a sucker for a major success story, and it is very difficult to match J. K. Rowling in that category. Talk about inspiration: to go from being a struggling single parent to where she is today, it’s just incredible. I love to hear stories like that, and her personal story is as epic as the stories she wrote about Harry Potter.
If you could play any character from literature, who would it be?
One of my favorite characters in history is Cincinnatus, and I’ve read everything I can find about him. I would love to play him in a film about ancient Rome. He was given the keys to the kingdom — pure, absolute power! — and he did the job and then went back to his farm. He didn’t get drunk on the power. He did the job he was asked to do, dealt with the invasion and walked away. That is the purest form of public service I can imagine, and it would be fun to try to capture that character on film.
The United States was lucky to have George Washington as a founding father, because he had that same civic virtue, and of course he had read about and admired Cincinnatus.