Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks you can be Arnold, too. Results may vary.

Who is a self-help book for? At various points in “Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life,” Arnold Schwarzenegger muses that his reader is probably just like him. It’s a dubious assumption. No one in the world is like Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s the whole point of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger’s singular American experience serves as the basis for this guide to achieving a “happy, successful, useful life — whatever that means for you.” The seven tools are not so much tools as they are vague, interchangeable hooks (“Have a Clear Vision”; “Never Think Small”; “Work Your Ass Off”; etc.) upon which Schwarzenegger hangs vignettes from his career.

The resulting pep talk is routinely scattershot but reliably charming. In a single chapter, we learn about Schwarzenegger’s commitment to redistricting overhaul while serving as the 38th governor of California; the process by which he and Danny DeVito secured lucrative back-end deals before the production of “Twins”; and how he grew his underdeveloped calves to reach Mr. Olympia standards. The secret behind these accomplishments, we learn, is ambition and hard work. Does this suggest there is a direct link between scrawny legs and out-of-control gerrymandering? Schwarzenegger doesn’t say, but he does tell us that “the person who is OK doing four sets of ten [sloppy] half reps on the pulldown machine is more likely to sloppily change their baby’s diaper,” so there’s that.

The central tenet regarding the power of bootstrapped ambition is hardly revolutionary, and Schwarzenegger readily admits this. He claims that he never expected to become “a self-help guy” and strains to distance this “tool kit” from “woo-woo manifestation mumbo jumbo like The Secret.” Still, he occasionally undermines his attempts at blunt, tell-it-like-it-is honesty by succumbing to the genre’s more annoying tropes, including multiple instances of forgettable pop-psych pablum filler. (Studies show …)

The book is most compelling when Schwarzenegger writes from his own perspective, a voice that valorizes both intellectual curiosity and the thrill of getting absolutely shredded. The charm offensive even (or especially) works when he’s tiptoeing the line of self-parody, such as comparing himself taking on “Kindergarten Cop” post-“The Terminator” to Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel after sculpting “David.” Somehow, I found myself assenting. Sure. I buy it.

The man has lived a life of unmatched specificity; examples from it are bound to be interesting. But building a self-help book around such a sui generis existence is bound to present some complications. Although his earnest enthusiasm about hard work is contagious, the fact that this is Arnold Schwarzenegger delivering the advice makes it inherently contradictory. Schwarzenegger seems to believe his astonishing career trajectory is proof that, If I can do it, so can you, yet he often refers to his own innate physical advantages and special emotional disposition. He’s “wired differently” and concedes that his massive stores of energy can be attributed to genetics. “I am a lunatic,” he writes. “I don’t do anything like a normal person.” Perhaps he should have kept that in mind when suggesting his readers find extra time to pursue their dreams by eating quicker and driving faster during their commutes.

But the most interesting contradiction comes from the title itself. The phrase “be useful” is, in his words, “the best piece of advice my father ever gave me.” Schwarzenegger has spoken about his father, Gustav, at length before, including in a viral motivational video where he called the former Nazi officer a “loser.” He is less censorious in this book, but he still describes Gustav as an abusive alcoholic who discouraged his son’s passions. Gustav’s idea of “being useful” was staying close to home and becoming a police officer, meaning Arnold had to actively reject this marquee advice to achieve a happy, successful life.

The implied question — “Be useful to whom?” — goes unanswered for much of the book. At some moments, such as during the section instructing readers how to dodge difficult, pointed questions, Schwarzenegger seems to disabuse the sentiment entirely. There are also missed opportunities. “I blew up my family,” he writes in the introduction. “No failure has ever felt worse than that.” But rather than delve into the decisions that led to such a humbling setback, he briskly moves on so as not to feed “the gossip machine.” It’s his right, of course, but one has to imagine the people seeking guidance from this book could have found some utility from Schwarzenegger’s reflection on an all-too-human pattern of behavior.

It isn’t until the final two chapters, including a grace note of a closing argument, that he flexes some moral clarity that’s strong enough to counterbalance all the bluster and wit. “These books can become permission slips for selfishness,” he warns while making a case for this particular text as an exception. “Want to help yourself? Help others.” It may not be novel or epiphanic, but it’s an undoubtedly useful piece of advice coming from an author whose very existence provides all the originality one could ever need.

Be Useful

Seven Tools for Life

By Arnold Schwarzenegger

Penguin Press. 288 pp. $28

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