What It Takes
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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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    Frances Arnold: A Nobel Vision

    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. The molecules she was particularly interested in were enzymes, which are essential to life, and which she knew could be used to make environmentally friendly materials, including bio-fuels, cleaning products, and pharmaceuticals. Her idea worked right away. It’s now called “directed evolution,” and it has had huge implications for industry. In 2018, it earned her a Nobel Prize in Chemistry (only the fifth ever awarded to a woman). She talks here about the science, but also about the bumps in her life that helped her become an original thinker.

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    Michael Caine: An Accent on Life

    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 Rules". Fifteen year olds think of him as Alfred, Batman’s butler In the Dark Knight Trilogy. 85 year olds think of him as Alfie, the shameless womanizer in the iconic 1960’s film by the same name. In between Michael Caine has been in 150 movies, and he’s still going strong. He is as amusing and charming off-screen as on, and tells story after story here about his beginnings as a scrappy, poor Cockney kid who, against all odds, became one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors.

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    John Updike: Dreams from My Mother

    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 one of the most prolific and esteemed American writers of his generation, who won two Pulitzer Prizes for his "Rabbit" novels but was as well known for his stories and essays and works of literary criticism. He talks here about his very beginnings in a small Pennsylvania town, and about his mother, who inspired him with her own efforts to get published. Updike also discusses his storied association with The New Yorker, which began the month he completed college and lasted until his death in 2009. And he describes the nitty-gritty of his daily writing routine.

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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.

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    Johnny Mathis: Timeless Voice of Romance

    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 with Columbia Records at the age of 19 and about his life in music over the past 60+ years. He pays tribute to the African-American artists who paved the way for him. And he tells the story behind some of his greatest hit songs, including "Chances Are," and "It's Not For Me To Say."

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    Stephen Sondheim: Maestro of Broadway

    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 "Gypsy", "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "Company," "A Little Night Music," "Sweeney Todd," "Sunday in the Park with George," "Into the Woods," and "Assassins." He pulls back the curtain in this interview, giving fascinating insights into some of the greatest Broadway collaborations of all time, and into the process of writing a song for the stage.

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

    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 of language fail. They also share stories about the people who inspired them to make a life in literature. And they read some great poems, of course!

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    Sir Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner: King of the Mountain

    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. Everest. A generation later, Reinhold Messner became the first person to reach it solo, and without oxygen. They each tell remarkable stories here of what drove them to the top of the world, and how it felt to be there.

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    Lord Martin Rees: The Future of Humanity

    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 England’s Astronomer Royal, and has spent the past fifty years looking deep into the past, to understand the origins of the universe. But for the past two decades he’s also been asking the most difficult questions about the future of humankind, a future made uncertain because of tremendous advancements in science and technology.

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    Leymah Gbowee: A Call from God

    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 the next fourteen years it would become one of the most vicious, deadly wars in history (one tenth of the population was killed). One night Gbowee had a dream: to organize women to pray for peace. That dream led to a mass women’s movement and to some creative non-violent tactics (including a sex strike!) that helped bring an end to the war. Leymah Gbowee tells her inspiring life story here, from a poor West African village to the Nobel Peace Prize.

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