What It Takes

100 EpisodesProduced by Academy of Achievement

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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Jimmy Carter: From Plains to the Presidency

April 22nd, 2019

58:26

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 …

Peter Gabriel: Genesis of a Rock Star

April 8th, 2019

56:56

Sledgehammer, In Your Eyes, and Red Rain are some of the hits that made Peter Gabriel a rock superstar in the 1970's and 80's. Before he became a …

Brendan Sullivan: Standing Up to Power

March 25th, 2019

50:45

If you're a senator, a military leader, or a business executive accused of wrongdoing, Brendan Sullivan is the lawyer you probably want to call. …

Susan Butcher: Call of the Wild

March 11th, 2019

48:52

This is the story of a true original... a woman who dominated the extreme sport of dog sled racing for years, was a four-time winner of the Iditarod (the grueling, thousand-mile race across Alaska). Susan Butcher, a …

Frances Arnold: A Nobel Vision

February 25th, 2019

43:09

Thirty years ago, Dr. Arnold had an idea: to breed molecules in the laboratory the way we breed animals - to bring out the traits we want in them. …

Michael Caine: An Accent on Life

February 11th, 2019

55:08

He has been nominated for an Academy Award in every one of the past five decades, and won twice, for "Hannah And Her Sisters" and "The Cider House …

John Updike: Dreams from My Mother

January 28th, 2019

37:39

John Updike used his unique literary talents to peel back the layers of middle-class American life, exposing its less-than-placid exterior. He was …

Chuck Yeager: The Right Stuff

January 14th, 2019

58:57

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 …

Johnny Mathis: Timeless Voice of Romance

December 31st, 2018

41:11

He is one of the romantic singers of all time... with a voice people often compare to satin, to silk or to velvet. It's hard to describe, but you sure know it when you hear it. Johnny Mathis talks here about signing …

Stephen Sondheim: Maestro of Broadway

December 17th, 2018

1:00:38

He grew up next door to Oscar Hammerstein and became his greatest protege. In 1957, Sondheim wrote the lyrics for "West Side Story," and for the next 60 years dominated the world of musical theater. His shows include …

Rita Dove and W.S. Merwin: A Gift for Language

December 3rd, 2018

38:39

Two of America's greatest poets - both former Poet Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners - get to the heart of why poems speak to us when other forms …

Sir Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner: King of the Mountain

November 19th, 2018

58:08

Man's relationship to mountain was forever changed by these two adventurers. Sir Edmund Hillary was the first person to reach the summit of Mt. …

Lord Martin Rees: The Future of Humanity

November 5th, 2018

50:13

We have Lord Martin Rees to thank for much of what we understand about black holes, quasars, and other distant objects in the night sky. He is …

Leymah Gbowee: A Call from God

October 22nd, 2018

55:29

This story is a testament to the power of one person to change the world. When civil war broke out in Liberia, Leymah Gbowee was 17 years old. Over …

Lynsey Addario: Portraits of Love and War

October 8th, 2018

50:48

This Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist has covered wars and humanitarian crises in 70 countries, including Iraq, Libya & Afghanistan. She …

Norman Schwarzkopf: Duty, Honor, Country

September 24th, 2018

49:13

The last time the United States had a grand military parade was in 1991, following the swift, crushing victory over Iraq in the Persian Gulf War. …

Peyton Manning and Herschel Walker: Preparing to Win

September 9th, 2018

55:43

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 …

Bernie Taupin: Lyrical Inspiration

August 27th, 2018

45:25

When Elton John and Bernie Taupin met as teenagers, they were each talented and full of potential, but together, they were unstoppable. For over 50 …

Khaled Hosseini, Scott Turow and Charles Krauthammer: Second Lives

August 13th, 2018

30:44

If you’ve ever dreamed of reinventing yourself, take inspiration from these three writers. Each one followed a traditional career path before …

Beverly and Dereck Joubert: Spirit of the Wild

July 30th, 2018

52:28

The look in a lion's eye, fixated on its prey... the sound of a hyena taking down a zebra foal... the tender ministrations of an elephant. For over 40 years, the Jouberts (National Geographic Explorers) have lived in …

Anthony Fauci: From Aristotle to AIDS

July 16th, 2018

59:54

This is the story of a remarkable doctor who, in 1981, became one of the first scientists to recognize that we were on the verge of a new and terrible epidemic - HIV/AIDS - and then devoted his career to finding …

Jessye Norman: Living My Life in Song

July 2nd, 2018

53:39

This global icon of the concert stage was planning to become a doctor, but her voice was too powerful a force. Jessye Norman tells the story of …

John Banville: Literary Confessions

June 18th, 2018

41:24

A darkly funny conversation about writing, weather & Ireland. Banville, a Booker Prize-winning novelist and master wordsmith, explains why …

Julie Andrews: An Angel on My Shoulder

June 4th, 2018

1:00:48

Who doesn’t love Julie Andrews? She has delighted generations of audiences, whether singing on the London Vaudeville circuit, in the Broadway …

Andrew Weil: The Healing Power of Nature

May 21st, 2018

50:54

Dr. Weil has been on a decades-long campaign to convince the medical establishment that the mind-body connection is real, and that many alternative …

Kazuo Ishiguro: Lyrical Tales of Emotion

May 7th, 2018

58:56

This Nobel Prize-winning writer — the author of “Remains of the Day” and “Never Let Me Go” — started out as a singer songwriter. He talks here about falling in love with language at 13, while listening to Bob Dylan, and …

Demis Hassabis: A.I. Mastermind

April 23rd, 2018

49:03

Artificial Intelligence is already changing the course of society, and it’s only in its infancy. Hear one of the most innovative and successful …

Wallace Stegner and N. Scott Momaday: Chroniclers of the American West

April 11th, 2018

31:44

These two great American writers reflect on their place in the landscape, the history and the culture of the West. One is Kiowa Indian, one is …

Steve Schwarzman: King of Wall Street

March 26th, 2018

51:38

Take a peek into the mind of Stephen Schwarzman, the financier who established a little financial startup called Blackstone with $400,000 in seed capital, and transformed it into one of the largest investment firms in …

Bartlett Sher: A Reason to Sing

March 12th, 2018

46:15

Going to see live theater, Bartlett Sher believes, is a unique experience... one that’s not just entertaining, but also has the power to change your view of the world. Sher is one of the most creative, thought-provoking …

Jeremy Irons: Thespian and Provocateur

February 26th, 2018

48:04

The star of theater, film and television talks about how acting has allowed him the life of a vagabond and the ability to challenge the status quo. He tells the story of his childhood on a rural English island, and his …

Dorothy Hamill and Scott Hamilton: The Price of Gold

February 12th, 2018

41:33

Two of the greatest figure skaters to ever grace Olympic ice explain why winning a gold medal was not the absolute triumph you might think. For both …

Sue Grafton: The Alphabet Ends at Y

January 29th, 2018

34:25

Sue Grafton wrote a mystery for every letter of the alphabet but one. When she died in December of 2017, she left her fans with the ultimate …

Maya Lin: The Art of Remembrance

January 15th, 2018

46:33

When Maya Lin’s design was chosen for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1981, it sparked a political firestorm in Washington. The design was almost …

Edward Teller: Destroyer of Worlds

January 1st, 2018

1:09:14

The "Father of the Hydrogen Bomb", the force behind Reagan's Star Wars initiative, and the model for "Dr. Strangelove" was a Hungarian math prodigy who fled Hitler's Germany. In Amerlica, he became one of the …

Anthony M. Kennedy: Principles of Freedom

December 18th, 2017

41:24

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 …

Jimmy Page: Guitar Hero

December 4th, 2017

47:39

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 …

Itzhak Perlman: The Gift of Music

November 20th, 2017

41:51

For the past 60 years - ever since he made his American debut at 13 - Itzhak Perlman has made classical music fans swoon. He is not only one of the …

Ernest J. Gaines: Letters of My Ancestors

November 6th, 2017

38:02

Ernest Gaines grew up in the 1930's and 40's on the same Louisiana plantation where his ancestors were once slaves. After he became a successful and …

Esperanza Spalding and Wayne Shorter: Jazz Invention

October 23rd, 2017

1:07:17

Esperanza Spalding - bass player, composer, lyricist and singer - is one of the most exciting artists in contemporary jazz. Wayne Shorter is a legendary saxophonist and composer whose career began in the bebop era of …

Leon Panetta: Decisive Action

October 9th, 2017

56:50

The last time the budget of the United States was balanced - and even had a surplus - Leon Panetta was in charge of it, as Director of the Office of Management & Budget. From the Nixon years through the Obama …

James Earl Jones: The Voice of Triumph

September 25th, 2017

33:00

When James Earl Jones speaks, his voice reverberates so deeply that you can almost feel it in your own chest. Think Darth Vader. For 60 years now, Jones has been captivating audiences with that voice and with his …

General Colin Powell: My American Journey

September 11th, 2017

57:29

Colin Powell has worn many hats, among them: Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and National Security Advisor. He was the …

Barbra Streisand and Pat Conroy: The Way We Were

August 28th, 2017

30:30

Barbra Streisand is one of the greatest entertainers of all time. An American icon. In the early 1990's, she forged an unlikely friendship with …

Jeff Bezos: Regret Minimization

August 14th, 2017

32:12

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 …

Louise Glück: Revenge Against Circumstance

July 31st, 2017

41:55

Louise Glück uses simple, unsentimental language in her poems to evoke overwhelming emotions. That rare combination is what has distinguished her as one of America's greatest living poets, for over half a century. In …

Naomi Judd: Dream Chaser

July 17th, 2017

35:21

Naomi Judd's life has had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster. For eight glorious years, she and her daughter Wynonna were the biggest country …

Rosa Parks and Judge Frank Johnson: Standing Up for Freedom

July 3rd, 2017

46:55

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 …

Robert Langer: Edison of Medicine

June 19th, 2017

28:40

Some of Robert Langer's inventions sound like the stuff of science fiction: "smart" pills that can release medicine by remote control... organs and …

Sally Ride and Eileen Collins: Wonder Women

June 5th, 2017

36:04

Sally Ride was the first American woman to rocket into space. Eileen Collins was the first woman to command the Space Shuttle. These two astronauts …

Frank McCourt: Teacher Man

May 22nd, 2017

44:21

No one could tell a story better than Frank McCourt. His first book, Angela's Ashes, remains one of the most compelling accounts of poverty, …

Leslie Wexner: Victoria's Other Secret

May 8th, 2017

29:11

This is the story of Les Wexner's path, from a tiny, old-fashioned neighborhood store in Columbus, Ohio, owned by his immigrant father... to one of …

Nora Ephron: Unstoppable Wit

April 24th, 2017

40:37

Nora Ephron knew just how to make people laugh and cry and kvell. But mostly laugh. She wrote some of the greatest romantic comedies of all time, including "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle". She was a …

Bill Russell: Giant of a Man

April 10th, 2017

32:48

Bill Russell was the force behind the most astonishing winning streak in the history of sports. His team, the Boston Celtics, won eleven NBA championships between 1957 and 1969, eight of those in a row. Russell …

Sonia Sotomayor: Power of Words

March 27th, 2017

52:59

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 …

Sally Field: Embracing Fear

March 13th, 2017

48:29

Sally Field is one of the best actresses in America... on film, on television and on stage. She's won Emmy Awards and Academy Awards, and has had …

Reid Hoffman: Silicon Valley Grandmaster

February 27th, 2017

26:59

LinkedIn changed the way people navigate the world of work. It's hard to even remember the days (though not that long ago) when jobseekers opened the back of a newspaper to scan the help wanted ads. Well, LinkedIn …

August Wilson and Lloyd Richards: The Voice of Genius

February 13th, 2017

40:41

Meet two giants of the American theater: playwright August Wilson and director Lloyd Richards. Together they brought many award-winning plays to Broadway, including "Fences," "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," and "The Piano …

Chuck Jones: The Fine Art of Laughter

January 30th, 2017

41:11

Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Pepé Le Pew were all brought to life in the hands of Chuck Jones. If there's a Loony Tunes or a Merrie Melodies cartoon that you carry in your heart, Jones was probably behind it. (What's …

Jane Goodall: A Dedicated Pursuit

January 16th, 2017

34:37

As a girl in England, Jane Goodall dreamed of traveling to Africa to study animals in the wild. In 1960, that dream brought her to Tanzania, to observe the wild chimpanzees at Gombe Stream Park. As she describes in …

Maya Angelou, Part 2: In the Spirit of Martin

January 2nd, 2017

32:57

Maya Angelou was a civil rights activist and a friend of Martin Luther King Jr., years before she became known throughout the world for her memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." In this, the second of two Maya …

Maya Angelou: Righteousness and Love

December 19th, 2016

34:14

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 …

Albie Sachs: Freedom Fighter

December 5th, 2016

1:02:42

Albie Sachs awoke one day in 1988 in a Mozambican hospital, with no remembrance of the car bomb that had maimed his body. But it hadn't broken his will to remain in the struggle to end Apartheid in South Africa. This …

Thomas Keller: Recipe for Success

November 21st, 2016

50:17

When Thomas Keller was a dishwasher, he learned all the basic lessons he'd need to become one of America's greatest chefs and restaurateurs. Keller owns The French Laundry and Per Se, two of the only restaurants in …

Doris Kearns Goodwin: Presidential Ambitions

November 7th, 2016

29:47

When Doris Kearns Goodwin was six years old, she used to carefully document the Brooklyn Dodgers' games. And that, she says, eventually led her to …

Frank O. Gehry: Building the Inspiring Space

October 24th, 2016

43:51

If you can name one living architect, it's probably Frank Gehry. Gehry has designed some of the world's most recognizable and beloved buildings... …

John Irving: A Literary Life

October 10th, 2016

27:33

One of America's greatest living novelists begins every book by writing the the last sentence first. In this episode, John Irving, author of The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and The Cider House …

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Justice For All

September 26th, 2016

56:40

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 …

Wynton Marsalis: Philosopher King of Jazz

September 12th, 2016

38:13

Wynton Marsalis has been THE preeminent name in jazz for the past 30 years. The Louisiana-born trumpeter set out to bring jazz back from the brink …

Steven Rosenberg: Finding a Cure for Cancer

August 29th, 2016

29:04

One of the greatest revolutions in the treatment of cancer is underway. It's called immunotherapy, and the revolutionary behind it is Dr. Steven …

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

August 15th, 2016

46:36

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 …

Sir Roger Bannister: The Mile of the Century

August 1st, 2016

34:06

When Englishman Roger Bannister was studying medicine at Oxford in the 1940's, he began to have great success as a member of the track team. He knew …

Elie Wiesel: A Light in the Darkness

July 18th, 2016

29:19

After World War II, when few survivors of the Holocaust were willing or able to describe what they’d been through, Elie Wiesel decided silence was …

Carole King and Hal David: More Than Beautiful

July 4th, 2016

36:30

While listening to this episode, we dare you to NOT sing out loud. Carole King and Hal David were each one half of a legendary songwriting duo, and …

Olivia de Havilland: The Last Belle of Cinema

June 20th, 2016

44:51

There is only one surviving superstar from the Golden Age of Hollywood: Olivia de Havilland. The actress who portrayed Melanie Hamilton in "Gone …

Steven Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski: Images of the Imagination

June 6th, 2016

49:34

Steven Spielberg hired Janusz Kaminski as the cinematographer for "Schindler's List” twenty-five years ago, and they have worked together, …

Quincy Jones: The Music Man

May 23rd, 2016

50:18

Quincy Jones’s fingerprints are all over America’s popular music. If you like Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Aretha …

Ray Dalio: Maestro of the Markets

May 9th, 2016

34:38

How do you become a multi-billionaire, and the most successful hedge fund manager ever? Ray Dalio attributes his success to transcendental …

Barry Scheck: The Innocence Project

April 25th, 2016

39:36

The Innocence Project has freed 1000’s of people serving time in prison for crimes they did not commit. Thousands. People who were misidentified by …

Carol Burnett: Laughter and Reflection

April 11th, 2016

42:39

Whether you grew up watching The Carol Burnett Show, or your parents did, this comedian, actress, singer and writer is someone you want to get to …

Coach John Wooden: Character for Life

March 28th, 2016

36:32

During March Madness, can you think of anything more satisfying to do between games than listen to an interview with legendary coach John Wooden?! Wooden led UCLA to more NCAA championships than any other team in …

Steve Jobs and Tony Fadell: Inventing the Future

March 14th, 2016

59:40

In this episode, an intimate history of two pocket-sized devices that changed the world, and the two men who created them: Steve Jobs and Tony Fadell. Jobs famously co-founded Apple. In the late 90’s, when the company …

Sidney Poitier: Trailblazing Screen Legend

February 27th, 2016

53:14

Sidney Poitier changed America’s view of black men. And he changed Hollywood (though the change is far from over, given the issues of diversity at …

Lauryn Hill: Family, Faith & Hip-Hop

February 15th, 2016

37:00

Lauryn Hill has had an outsized impact on the world of hip-hop, soul and R&B. She entered the music world in the mid-1990’s as one third of the …

Andrew Young: My Life, My Destiny

February 1st, 2016

44:59

Andrew Young has worn many hats: pastor, congressman, ambassador & mayor, but his first role in public service was as Martin Luther King Jr’s …

Coretta Scott King: The Courage to Dream

January 18th, 2016

28:36

As Mrs. King says, she wasn’t just married to Martin Luther King Jr., she was married to the cause. Their partnership in life, in faith, and in the struggle for justice and human rights, changed the world. In this …

Lee Berger: In the Footsteps of Eve

January 4th, 2016

37:17

Lee Berger has made two extraordinary scientific breakthroughs that are transforming our understanding of human evolution. Berger is a trailblazing …

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: The Power of Faith

December 21st, 2015

37:56

Desmond Tutu was the moral force that helped bring down Apartheid in South Africa. As a young priest, he was not very political, despite the fact …

George Lucas: The Force Will Be With You

December 7th, 2015

36:45

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, …

William McRaven: A Life of Service

November 23rd, 2015

37:01

"There are some things in life you control. I don't know that you control the sweeping hands of destiny." Admiral William "Bill" McRaven's destiny …

James Michener: Master Storyteller

November 9th, 2015

36:47

James Michener was born to tell stories. He was one of the most popular and best-selling American novelists of all time… able to merge equal parts …

Mike (Coach K) Krzyzewski: Inspiring Greatness

October 26th, 2015

27:24

Coach K, as Mike Krzyzewski is best known, has more wins than any other men's basketball coach in the NCAA. He’s placed his team - the Duke University Blue Devils - in five consecutive Final Fours, won five national …

B.B. King: King of the Blues

October 12th, 2015

36:57

BB King began life as a humble Mississippi cotton farmer, and ended up one of the most influential guitarists and singers of the past century. Jimi …

Benazir Bhutto: Paying the Ultimate Price

September 28th, 2015

29:14

Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007, just after she returned from exile in the hopes of becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan for the third time. She had held the position for the first time in the 1980’s, and then …

Jonas Salk: Vanquisher of Polio

September 21st, 2015

25:07

Before Jonas Salk created the Polio vaccine, thousands of children died every year or were left paralyzed by the virus (adults too). In 1952 alone, …

Oprah Winfrey, Part 2: A Vision for Success

September 7th, 2015

28:08

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 …

Oprah Winfrey: The Queen of Talk… and Determination

August 31st, 2015

19:22

“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 …

Willie Mays: For the Love of the Game

August 24th, 2015

26:20

Baseball fans may argue to this day about which was the best of Willie Mays’ many spectacular catches, but nearly all agree — he was one of the most …

Johnny Cash: True To His Own Voice

August 17th, 2015

17:30

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 …

This is.... What It Takes

August 3rd, 2015

5:55

In this brief introductory episode we explain what the podcast is all about (rare & revealing conversations with history-making, game-changing, courageous people)... we give you a sense of the kind of people you're …

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