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What It Takes

Revealing, intimate conversations with visionaries and leaders in the arts, science, technology, public service, sports and business. These engaging personal stories are drawn from interviews with the American Academy of Achievement, and offer insights you’ll want to apply to your own life.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Justice For All

In this episode, you'll hear Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg tell the very personal story of her lifelong pursuit of justice and equality for women. Her tale includes trips to the library with her mother, a sixty year romance with Marty Ginsburg, her struggles to become a lawyer in a field inhospitable to women, her surprising friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia, and even her days as an aspiring baton twirler! The interview was conducted by NPR's Nina Totenberg, and explores some of the most important cases Ginsburg handled - as a lawyer and as a Justice - that helped transform the legal landscape for women (and men) in America.


26 Sep 2016

Rank #1

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Lord Norman Foster: Building the Future

This is the story of a working class son of Manchester, England, who came to change skylines around the globe, envision a future for architecture that is in harmony with the environment, and design solutions to the most pressing problems of the world’s poor. In his 50 years as an architect, Norman Foster has designed an abundance of iconic buildings & sites, including the Apple Headquarters in Cupertino, London’s “Gherkin” and City Hall, Hong Kong’s Check Lap Kok Airport, Berlin’s new Reichstag Building and New York’s Hearst Tower. He talks here about falling in love with architecture before he knew what it was. And he describes designing modern spaces that encourage community, and uplift the humans who use them.


9 Sep 2019

Rank #2

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Sonia Sotomayor: Power of Words

Justice Sonia Sotomayor tells the extraordinary story of her voyage from the most dangerous neighborhood in the United States, to the highest court in the land -- a voyage fueled by the power of words. In a wide-ranging conversation with NPR's Nina Totenberg, recorded at the Supreme Court in 2016, Sotomayor shares her earliest memories of life in the tenements of the South Bronx: her diagnosis with diabetes, her trips to the market with her beloved grandmother, her father's death, and her love affair with books. She also talks about how she learned to learn, and to rely on the wisdom of friends and colleagues -- skills that carried her through Princeton, Yale, her prestigious legal career, and one beautiful throw from the pitcher's mound. Music in this episode by Kara Square, Brightside Studio & BenSound.com.


27 Mar 2017

Rank #3

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Oprah Winfrey: The Queen of Talk… and Determination

“Fourth grade is when I first began to believe in myself… I felt I could control the world.” On this episode of “What It Takes,” Oprah Winfrey talks frankly about the inner voice that allowed her to survive a trauma-filled childhood with unwavering focus and unrelenting determination, to become the top-ranking television talk show host of all time. She describes learning oration, at an age when most of us have yet to speak in full sentences. And she tells stories about intensely personal revelations she experienced WHILE she was on the air, interviewing other people. Oprah is currently the wealthiest African-American and the most philanthropic, but in this conversation, recorded in 1991, she defines her success in ways her fans might find surprising.


31 Aug 2015

Rank #4

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Anthony M. Kennedy: Principles of Freedom

Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the deciding vote in critical Supreme Court cases - from abortion to campaign finance to same-sex marriage - talks about his path to the judiciary. He also eloquently describes his devotion to the ideals of freedom and human dignity, and to civil discourse, in an era when it is more badly needed than ever.


18 Dec 2017

Rank #5

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George Lucas: The Force Will Be With You

George Lucas’s only dream as a teenager was to race cars, but he went on to create the most popular films in motion picture history. Along the way, while writing and directing Star Wars, Indiana Jones and American Graffiti, he learned life-changing lessons about humility, generosity, and the inestimable value of friendship…. as well as the secret to happiness. A not-too-subtle hint here: it has nothing to do with fame and fortune.


7 Dec 2015

Rank #6

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Jimmy Carter: From Plains to the Presidency

It’s a remarkable American story: a poor peanut farmer from the Deep South becomes a nuclear naval officer, then governor of Georgia, and finally President of the United States. And what Jimmy Carter has done for peace and human rights in the 40 years since leaving office is just as remarkable. The 39th president talks here about his early life in rural Plains, Georgia, where his deeply-held beliefs about equality and fairness took root, and he describes his unlikely rise through the political landscape at a moment when the U.S. was undergoing tumultuous change. He also speaks candidly about some of the most difficult moments in the White House, the transition to his “post-presidency,” and his assessment of what makes a great president.


22 Apr 2019

Rank #7

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Stephen Jay Gould: This View of Life

He knew from the age of five that he was going to become a paleontologist, but he also became one of the most important evolutionary theorists since Darwin. As a Harvard professor, he inspired generations of students. And as a writer, he made science understandable and exciting to the general public. Stephen Jay Gould died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 60, but during his lifetime, The Library of Congress designated him a "living legend."  In this interview, he explains his most famous contributions to evolutionary theory, he talks about how his high school choral director taught him the importance of excellence, and he makes the case against global warming, as only a paleontologist might.


1 Jun 2020

Rank #8

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Peyton Manning and Herschel Walker: Preparing to Win

Inspiring tales and life lessons from two of the most legendary players in football history. One grew up the son of an NFL quarterback, and one the son of a farmer, but for both, the key to living out their greatest dream was simple: work, work, and more work.


9 Sep 2018

Rank #9

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Maya Angelou: Righteousness and Love

Maya Angelou took the harshest experiences in her life and turned them into words of triumph, justice and hope. Her memoirs and her poems told of her survival, and uplifted people around the world. Her first book, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," is a classic of American literature. Her voice and the rhythm of her speech were absolutely unique. In this episode you'll hear that iconic voice, in interviews, speeches and conversations, and be reminded why she was one of the most inspiring figures of the past century.


19 Dec 2016

Rank #10

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Jeff Bezos: Regret Minimization

When Jeff Bezos had the idea to start an online bookstore, he was working in a secure job on Wall Street. The internet was still young, and the average person had never made a purchase online. Bezos knew the chances of his company failing were high, but he also knew that if he didn't take the risk, he'd always regret it. More than 20 years later, regrets are off the table. Amazon.com brings in 135 billion dollars in revenue, and Bezos is one of the wealthiest men in the world. Hear him tell stories about the early days, before Amazon transformed the way we shop, read, watch & listen.


14 Aug 2017

Rank #11

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Oprah Winfrey, Part 2: A Vision for Success

Oprah Winfrey’s career in broadcasting started when she won Nashville’s Miss Fire Prevention Contest. She was 17. Part Two of our Oprah conversation focuses on Oprah’s life in media. It was too hard to fit everything fascinating the Queen of Talk had to say into one episode! Here, she describes the reasons she was terrible at news reporting and terrific at talk show hosting. She also talks about how she stopped imitating Barbara Walters and developed her own voice, how she willed herself into the acting role of a lifetime, and how the key to success in her life has been trusting her instincts.


7 Sep 2015

Rank #12

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Rosa Parks and Judge Frank Johnson: Standing Up for Freedom

In the fall of 1955, Rosa Parks refused to stand for a white passenger on the bus, Martin Luther King Jr. was chosen to lead the boycott that followed, and a lawyer named Frank Johnson was appointed to be the first and only federal judge for the middle district of Alabama (also the youngest federal judge in the nation). These three people didn't know each other, and yet, their paths converged in Montgomery, at the crossroads of history. In this episode, you'll hear rare audio of Ms. Parks describing the day of her arrest, and you'll learn the lesser known story of Judge Johnson, a principled and stubborn Southerner from northern Alabama, who issued many of the court decisions decimating segregation throughout the south.


3 Jul 2017

Rank #13

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Julie Andrews: An Angel on My Shoulder

Who doesn’t love Julie Andrews? She has delighted generations of audiences, whether singing on the London Vaudeville circuit, in the Broadway productions of My Fair Lady & Camelot, or in the Hollywood classics Mary Poppins &The Sound of Music. Younger generations also know her from The Princess Diaries, Shrek & Despicable Me. And for every decade of her remarkable 70-year career, she’s got charming, insightful stories, starting with her London debut at the age of 12 (yes we have sound of it!). She also talks about some harrowing setbacks, like the surgery that destroyed her soaring voice, and the life lessons that helped her find new ways to share her extraordinary talents with the world.


4 Jun 2018

Rank #14

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Chuck Yeager: The Right Stuff

The man who broke the sound barrier in the experimental Bell X-1, and ushered in the era of manned spacecraft, never saw a plane when he was growing up in the hills of West Virginia. But he became an ace fighter pilot in World War II, and later - an absolutely fearless test pilot, who managed to survive the most harrowing mishaps, with an unflappable calm and sense of duty.


14 Jan 2019

Rank #15

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Jimmy Page: Guitar Hero

Jimmy Page’s plan all along was to transform rock n’ roll. And he did. The band he founded, Led Zeppelin, remains one of the most influential and popular rock bands in history. Page is one of the greatest guitarists of all time. His epic onstage solos, on hits like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Kashmir,” are legendary. And he was just as innovative as a producer. On this episode Page talks about how he fell in love with American blues music, how he learned to play the guitar, and how his days as a session musician prepared him to upend the conventions of studio recording. He also walks us through some of the Led Zeppelin songs he loves best.


4 Dec 2017

Rank #16

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Lt. Michael Thornton and Lt. Tommy Norris: Portraits of Valor

In 1972, a Navy Seal named Thomas Norris carried out one of the most dangerous and daring rescue missions of the war in Vietnam. Six months later, he would be rescued himself, in an equally dramatic manner, after being shot through the head.  His rescuer was fellow Seal, Michael Thornton, who had shrapnel wounds, but swam for three hours while carrying Norris, and a South Vietnamese commando.  Both Norris and Thornton would go on to receive the Medal of Honor.  They tell their remarkable war stories here - best friends, sitting side by side.


18 May 2020

Rank #17

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Bill Gates, Sergey Brin and Larry Page: Tech Titans

These three visionaries changed the way we live our daily lives. You'll hear remarkable archival recordings of each, when they were young successful entrepreneurs, but before history had proven the scale of their impact. Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, describes how, as a teenager, he first envisioned the potential for computers to become fixtures in our homes. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google, talk about their accidental discovery of the algorithm that would allow us to search and make sense of the new world-wide web's information explosion. And they all talk about taking risks to embrace the future.


13 Jan 2020

Rank #18

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Steven Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski: Images of the Imagination

Steven Spielberg hired Janusz Kaminski as the cinematographer for "Schindler's List” twenty-five years ago, and they have worked together, hand-in-glove, ever since. Their collaboration has produced "Saving Private Ryan," "Bridge of Spies," "Lincoln," and many others. In this episode, both filmmakers tell how they fell in love with the movies, and learned to make them. Spielberg talks about his first camera and trusting his instincts, and Kaminski talks about how growing up in 1970's Poland gave him an unusual eye on the world.


6 Jun 2016

Rank #19

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Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush: The Freedom to Lead

In the midst of this political season… here’s a chance to hear two former U.S. Presidents hold forth on their lives in public service. Bill Clinton spoke to hundreds of graduate students from 50 nations at the 44th annual International Achievement Summit in Chicago. George H.W. Bush did the same, 9 years earlier at the Academy of Achievement's program in 1995 at Colonial Williamsburg. In this episode we present those inspiring and entertaining talks, unedited and unfettered.


15 Aug 2016

Rank #20