Rank #1: 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.
Rank #2: Peter Jackson: Master of Film Fantasy
Peter Jackson grew up in a country without any film industry or film schools, and yet, he only ever wanted to do one thing: make movies. The story of how he came to direct The Lord of the Rings (and Heavenly Creatures, The Hobbit, King Kong, and They Shall Not Grow Old) is both improbable and inspiring. He tells the story here of how he quit school to earn enough money for a 16 millimeter camera, and then, while learning to use it, inadvertently created his first feature length film -- a gory, sci fi comedy that landed him at the Cannes Film Festival. Jackson also describes what an audacious and unlikely idea it was that he, a New Zealander who made campy “splatter movies” as he calls them, would get the rights and the funding to turn the Lord of the Rings into a film trilogy. But the Rings of Power were clearly on his side. They were three of the most technically sophisticated and highest earning films of all time.
Rank #3: 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.
Rank #4: 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.
Rank #5: Sylvia Earle and David Doubilet: The Living Oceans
The ocean covers 70% of the earth. It regulates our climate and it provides most of the oxygen we breathe. And yet we still know very little about it. Well, this is the story of two people who have spent the past 60 years discovering the mysteries of the deep. Sylvia Earle is one of the world’s greatest marine scientists, and David Doubilet is one of the world’s greatest underwater photographers. Each tells the story of falling in love with life underwater. Each talks about how technology has transformed their ability to explore. Each describes the rapid destruction of the oceans they have witnessed first-hand. And each delivers a powerful message that if we humans continue to damage the oceans with abandon, we put human life at risk.
Rank #6: 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.
Rank #7: 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.
Rank #8: 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.
Rank #9: 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.
Rank #10: 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.
Rank #11: 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.
Rank #12: 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.
Rank #13: 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.
Rank #14: 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.
Rank #15: 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.
Rank #16: 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.
Rank #17: 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.
Rank #18: 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.
Rank #19: Johnny Cash: True To His Own Voice
Johnny Cash had a voice that could make a mountain quake. His impact on the world of music is legendary. On this episode, you'll hear the deeply introspective Cash near the end of his career (1993). He reflects on how he overcame considerable personal obstacles and turned his failures into the stepping stones to success. He also talks about the first music he remembers, the voice teacher who advised him to stop taking lessons, and the source of his creativity.
Rank #20: Khaled Hosseini, Scott Turow and Charles Krauthammer: Second Lives
If you’ve ever dreamed of reinventing yourself, take inspiration from these three writers. Each one followed a traditional career path before turning the page to pick up pen & paper. Khaled Hosseini, once a doctor, became author of international bestseller “The Kite Runner.” Scott Turow, attorney at law, became the master of legal thrillers such as “Presumed Innocent.” And psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer became a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper and magazine columnist. Each speaks here about finding one’s true passion, and pursuing it with zeal.