Lafayette, Marquis de (1757–1834) Eager to win glory as a soldier in a noble cause, Lafayette left his native France and arrived in Philadelphia in July 1777 to fight for American liberty. He was commissioned a major general in the Continental Army and established a close bond with General George Washington. He performed heroically at the Battle of Brandywine (September 11, 1777), returned to France and persuaded Louis XVI to send 6,000 men to fight immediately, then came back to America in April 1780 to take command of an army in Virginia. Lafayette was instrumental in bottling up Charles Cornwallis and his army on the Yorktown peninsula in late July 1780, which set Cornwallis up for the defeat that effectively ended the American Revolution.
Laffer, Arthur B. (1940– ) While serving as chief economist for the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during 1970–1972, Laffer developed the idea that lowering tax rates would actually increase tax revenues by stimulating investment. He illustrated this with the famous “Laffer Curve,” a foundation of Reagan-era supply-side economics, which held that reductions in federal taxes on businesses and individuals would lead to increased economic growth. As for the reduction in social welfare programs such tax cuts might necessitate, supply-side economics held that the economic benefits to business and the wealthy would “trickle down” to the middle and lower classes as well.
Lafitte, Jean (1780?–1825?) Born in France, Lafitte settled in New Orleans, from which he operated as a smuggler and pirate, preying on Spanish shipping. Seeking a pardon for his illicit activities, Lafitte offered the services of himself and his men to General Andrew Jackson in defense of New Orleans during the War of 1812. Lafitte fought brilliantly, and the Battle of New Orleans (December 1814–January 1815) was a great American victory. He and his men were pardoned by President James Madison.
La Follette, Robert M. (1855–1925) Governor of Wisconsin (1901–1906) and U.S. senator (1906–1925), La Follette led the Progressive Movement, an effort to bring about large-scale political reform. Although La Follette failed in his bid for the White House in 1924—he ran on the Progressive Party ticket—he did poll some 5,000,000 votes, nearly 17 percent of the votes cast. His Progressive philosophy was shared in varying degrees by such politicians as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
La Guardia, Fiorello (1882–1947) La Guardia was a lawyer and reform-minded politician. He served in Congress before his election in 1933 as mayor of New York, running on the Fusion ticket, which united the Liberal and Republican parties. His object was to reform the corrupt Tammany Hall Democratic boss system. He did just that, making sweeping reforms that became the envy of the nation. Through three terms as mayor, he emerged as a beloved figure of infinite energy and great compassion, fighting corruption and organized crime, bringing new efficiency to city services, expanding municipal social-welfare services, and introducing slum-clearance and subsidized housing. Many consider him the greatest mayor of any major American city—ever.
Land, Edwin (1901–1991) While a student at Harvard University, Land became interested in the phenomenon of polarized light and, in 1937, founded the Polaroid Corporation, creating polarized materials for sunglasses, 3-D movies, and military use. In 1947, he invented a single-step photographic process that enabled black-and-white pictures to be developed in 60 seconds. A color process was marketed in 1963. In an era before digital imaging, Polaroid photography was highly popular, very useful, and made Land a wealthy man.
Landers, Ann (1918–2002) Born Esther “Eppie” Pauline Friedman Lederer, she took the name Ann Landers in 1955 when she won a contest to take over what was already a popular newspaper advice column, “Ask Ann Landers.” Lederer transformed it from mere popularity into a fixture of many of the nation’s newspapers for the next 45 years. Ann Landers’s advice was sympathetic but frank, always direct, sometimes witty, and, on occasion, stinging. Her readers asked question ranging from the trivial to the life-changing, and she faithfully engaged each of them. Landers’s identical twin, Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips, was also a famous advice columnist, writing “Dear Abby” under the name Abigail Van Buren.
Landon, Alf (1887–1987) Alfred M. “Alf” Landon was Republican governor of Kansas from 1933 to 1937 and challenged Franklin D. Roosevelt for the White House in 1936. In 1912, he campaigned for Theodore Roosevelt when TR ran on the Progressive “Bull Moose” third-party ticket, and, for the rest of his political career, Landon embodied the Progressive philosophy, even after he became a Republican. Landon enjoyed tremendous popular support during the 1936 presidential election, but could not defeat the incumbent FDR. Although he never again played a major role in national politics, he remained a popular figure, a monument to the Progressive era, which had done much to reform American politics during the early 20th century.
Lange, Dorothea (1895–1965) Lange learned photography under the tutelage of the great Clarence White and worked in a San Francisco photo studio during the 1920s. It was not until the 1930s and the Great Depression that she found the subject of her lifetime: documenting the lives of the poor but proud victims of the Dust Bowl. Composed with classical elegance, her photographs convey the intense humanity of people who might otherwise have been relegated to a column of statistics. She recorded the human face of national adversity.
Lansky, Meyer (1902–1983) Born Maier Suchowljansky in Grodno, Russia, Lansky immigrated with his parents to New York’s Jewish slum, the Lower East Side, where he and pal Bugsy Siegel formed a profitable street gang. With the acumen of a skilled entrepreneur and the ruthlessness of a criminal, Lansky built a powerful and multifaceted crime syndicate that became the model for organized crime in America. Grown wealthy, he bankrolled other criminals in a variety of illegal enterprises, but his specialty was always gambling. His gambling empire stretched from pre-Castro Cuba, the Bahamas, and Florida, to Las Vegas, a city his money was largely responsible for developing after World War II.
La Salle, René-Robert Cavalier, Sieur de (1643–1687) La Salle led the French exploration of the vast region watered by the Mississippi River and its many tributaries, claiming the territory for Louis XIV of France and christening it Louisiana. It was North America’s most fertile land. La Salle’s final expedition, dedicated to conquering part of Spanish Mexico with a handful of Frenchman and allied Indians, ended in mutiny—and his death at the hands of his own men.
Las Casas, Bartolomé de (1474–1566) A Dominican friar, Las Casas was for 12 years part of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, but was outraged by the conquistadors’ inhumanity and wrote several gripping accounts of atrocities and other abuses committed against native peoples in the Caribbean and in North and South America. He was thus both an eyewitness-historian of early American exploration and settlement and a pioneering crusader for human rights.
Latrobe, Benjamin (1764–1820) Born in Britain, Latrobe studied architecture in Europe before immigrating to the United States in 1795. He established himself as the nation’s first professional architect and, in effect, founded the profession of architecture in the United States. He introduced the Greek Revival style to the nation with designs for many public and government buildings. President Thomas Jefferson appointed him surveyor of public buildings in 1803 and Latrobe completed the original U.S. Capitol, among other buildings. His best-known work, however, was for the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a part of Baltimore’s Roman Catholic cathedral.
Lawrence, Ernest (1901–1958) As early as 1929, this brilliant and charismatic physicist drew up designs for a cyclotron, which would accelerate hydrogen ions (protons) to create nuclear disintegration—that is, to “split atoms”—thereby producing new elements. The technology was essential to advanced nuclear research, and, during World War II, it proved to be critically important to the Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bomb. Lawrence developed an electromagnetic process for separating uranium-235 to produce the fissionable material at the heart of the weapon. A man of many interests, Lawrence also patented a picture tube for color television. He was awarded the 1939 Nobel Prize in physics, and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory at Livermore, California, are named in his honor, as is element 103, lawrencium.
Lay, Kenneth (1942–2006) Lay was an American success story, rising from a poor Missouri family to build a Texas oil pipeline company into a new kind of business, an energy broker called Enron. The meteoric rise of this firm made Lay one of the nation’s top-paid executives ($42.4 million earned in 1999) and an influential political figure; however, as a massive accounting scandal came to light in 2001—revealing that Enron’s soaring profits were pure fiction—Lay’s Enron became shorthand for corporate greed and conscienceless corruption. Lay pleaded ignorance of wrongdoing throughout his company, but was nevertheless indicted on July 7, 2004 on 11 counts of securities fraud and related charges. Convicted on 10 counts on May 25, 2006, he died—of an apparent heart attack—on July 5, 2006, somewhat more than three months before his scheduled sentencing.
Leary, Timothy (1920–1996) Leary was a Harvard University psychology professor who founded the Harvard Psychedelic Drug Research Program and administered psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) to graduate students. Dismissed from Harvard in 1963, he moved into a mansion in Millbrook, New York, where he presided over a small community of experimenters with the psychedelic drug LSD. He claimed that the drug enabled a spiritual “mind-expanding” state superior to anything contemporary conventional American society had to offer, and he advised his large lecture audiences to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” The phrase became a slogan of the 1960s counterculture movement.
Ledbetter, Huddie “Leadbelly” (1885?–1949) Leadbelly was born and raised in Louisiana and became an itinerant blues performer. He was a blues guitar genius and a composer who absorbed folk traditions then synthesized them into a vast repertoire of original “folk-blues” songs. His life, however, was marked by intense violence. Imprisoned for murder in 1918, he was released after six years, having been pardoned by the governor of Texas after he heard him sing. Imprisoned at Angola, Louisiana, for attempted murder in 1930, he was released in 1934 thanks to the efforts of father-and-son folklorists John and Alan Lomax. Leadbelly embarked on a performing career, but nevertheless died in poverty. Of his many songs, “Goodnight, Irene,” “The Midnight Special,” and “Rock Island Line” have become not only enduring classics but lucrative bestsellers—for performers other than the composer.
Lee, Henry “Light-horse Harry” (1756–1818) Lee was the rarest of American officers during the revolution: a skilled cavalry commander. He earned his nickname, “Light-horse Harry,” as commander of dragoons—swift-moving, elite troops who rode into battle then fought, dismounted, as infantry. On the death of George Washington in 1799, Lee wrote the resolution passed by Congress, which called the first president “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Light-horse Harry was the grandfather of Robert E. Lee.
Lee, Richard Henry (1732–1794) Although less famous today than John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and the like, Lee was a crucial player in the American independence movement. Prominent in Virginia life and politics, he served in the House of Burgesses from 1758 to 1775 and was instrumental in mounting opposition to the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts, the onerous British taxation policies that provoked the American Revolution. During the revolution, he worked with Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson to create the committees of correspondence, which coordinated policies and military campaigns among the colonies. After the revolution, Lee opposed replacing the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution because he distrusted strong central government. Yet, after ratification, he faithfully served his nation and state as senator from Virginia in the first Congress under the Constitution, from 1789 to 1792.
Lee, Robert E. (1807–1870) One of the illustrious Lees of Virginia, Robert E. Lee graduated from West Point in 1829, second in his class. Since the most promising graduates were customarily assigned to the Corps of Engineers, Lee became an engineering officer—and a brilliant one. It was, however, his heroic performance in the U.S.-Mexican War (1846–1848) that gained him his first fame. General Winfield Scott called him “the very best soldier I ever saw in the field.” With the outbreak of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln offered Lee command of the Union armies. He refused, because he could not bring himself to take up arms against his “native country”—by which he meant Virginia—and, resigning his U.S. Army commission, joined the army of the Confederacy. Initially serving as military adviser to Jefferson Davis, he rose to become commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, principal force of the Confederate army. Typically outnumbered and outgunned, he nevertheless compiled a remarkable record of victory, produced by his uncanny tactical skill and his charismatic leadership. His defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 was the turning point of the war, and his surrender at Appomattox Courthouse April 9, 1865, was the symbolic end of the Civil War. Despite the bitterness of the conflict, Lee emerged from the Civil War as the nation’s most respected—even most beloved—military commander.
Leisler, Jacob (1640–1691) German-born militia commander Leisler rallied and led New York farmers and merchants in an uprising against Catholics and suspected Catholics in the English colonial administration. The rebellion was suppressed, and Leisler was hanged as a traitor on May 16, 1691, but the movement he began persisted for years as a powerful anti-Catholic—and anti-aristocratic—force in the New York colony. It was an early challenge to royal British authority in America and may be seen as a distant precursor of the American Revolution.
LeMay, Curtis E. (1906–1990) A career military aviator, LeMay was one of the architects of strategic bombing doctrine during World War II and was especially effective as commander of the Twentieth Air Force, which conducted the strategic bombing of Japan, culminating in the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, which brought the war to an end. In the postwar era, LeMay assembled and commanded the Strategic Air Command, a major component of the U.S. “nuclear deterrent,” which simultaneously threatened and prevented World War III. Conservative and irascible, LeMay was uncompromising in his military and political views. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965 and, three years later, was running mate to segregationist candidate George C. Wallace on a third-party presidential ticket.
L’Enfant, Pierre (1754–1825) Born in France, L’Enfant came to the United States with Major General Lafayette as a military engineer in the service of the American Revolution. After the war, he designed in 1791 the street plan of the “Federal City in the United States,” subsequently named Washington, D.C. In addition to laying out the United States capital city—establishing its famous wheel-and-spoke pattern that exists to this day—L’Enfant redesigned New York’s Federal Hall and produced designs for houses, coins, medals, and furniture.
Leopold, Nathan (1904–1971) On May 21, 1924, with college friend Richard A. Loeb, Leopold kidnapped and murdered 14-year-old Robert (“Bobbie”) Franks for no other purpose than to commit the “perfect crime” that demonstrated (as Leopold saw it) intellectual superiority. At trial, the pair was defended by Clarence Darrow, who did not claim the innocence of his clients, but successfully mitigated their sentence from death to life imprisonment, arguing for the first time in American legal history that they were psychopaths—sane, yet constitutionally incapable of moral judgment. Leopold was paroled in 1958 and worked among the poor of Puerto Rico as a hospital technician.
Leslie, Frank (1821–1880) Henry Carter was born in England and learned the engraver’s trade while working for the Illustrated London News. He came to New York City in 1848 and, in 1855, under the pseudonym “Frank Leslie,” began publishing Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, which featured superbly engraved illustrations and became the most popular and influential weekly in the nation. He introduced the technique of dividing drawings into modular blocks that could be given to several engravers, then reassembled for reproduction. This greatly speeded the work and enabled the illustration of fast-breaking news events. He made his fortune providing illustrated coverage of the Civil War.
Lewinsky, Monica (1973– ) Lewinsky began working as an intern in the Clinton White House in 1995, but it was while she was employed as a paid Pentagon staffer that she had a short-term sexual relationship with Clinton. The scandal was detailed in a report written under the direction of Kenneth Starr, an independent counsel appointed to investigate allegations of possibly impeachable offenses committed by the president. The report concluded that Clinton had violated his oath of office by perjuring himself in a sworn deposition he had given in an earlier sex scandal. Motivated in part by the Lewinsky affair and based on the Starr Report, Congress voted, along party lines, to impeach President Clinton, who was nevertheless acquitted on February 12, 1999. After the scandal, Lewinsky used her dubious celebrity to start a designer handbag business (closed in 2004) and to host a short-lived “reality TV” series, Mr. Personality (2003). She then enrolled in graduate school, studying social psychology.
Lewis, John L. (1880–1969) With his bulldog chin and dramatically heavy eyebrows, Lewis was a formidable-looking figure who came to symbolize the labor movement in America from roughly 1920 to 1960. He was president of the United Mine Workers of America (1920–1960) and principal founder of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), serving as its president from 1936 to 1940. With genius and determination, Lewis exploited President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to carve out a strong position for labor even in the depths of the Great Depression.
Lewis, Meriwether (1774–1809) Lewis was a U.S. Army officer of great promise when he became personal secretary to President Thomas Jefferson, who knew the young man’s family and regarded Lewis as a protégé. Together, Lewis and the president planned a great expedition through the Far West, and when the Louisiana Purchase was approved, Congress financed the first overland expedition to the Pacific Northwest. With his handpicked co-captain, William Clark, Lewis led a small band from St. Louis to the Pacific and back—a journey that spanned 1804 to 1806. Lewis and Clark returned with a great narrative journal of the expedition, a wealth of scientific and geographical data, and the foundation of good relations with several Indian tribes. It was the opening of the American West.
Lewis, Sinclair (1885–1951) Lewis’ fiction combined realism with broadly drawn satire to skewer complacent and obtuse aspects of American society. His masterpiece is the 1920 Main Street, which presents a full-length portrait of mid-American society. Babbitt, which followed in 1922, is a story of American complacency—so persuasive that the word “Babbittry” entered the lexicon of American social criticism. In 1930, Lewis became the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Lichtenstein, Roy (1923–1997) Trained under the gritty American painter Reginald Marsh, Lichtenstein began his art career painting western American subjects and venturing into Abstract Impressionism, the dominant style of the early 1950s. In 1960, however, he began to incorporate aspects of Abstract Expressionism with pop culture images, including cartoon figures. Increasingly, he exploited the look of comic-strip art, often magnifying the dot pattern used in four-color pulp-press printing. The work struck a chord and became an icon of American art in the 1960s, launching the “Pop art” movement.
Liddy, G. Gordon (1930– ) Liddy was a former FBI special agent who worked for the Nixon reelection campaign’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP), bringing to CREEP his expertise as the chief of the “Plumbers,” the illegal covert unit the president used to stop information leaks. With E. Howard Hunt, Liddy planned the break-in of Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington’s Watergate complex in 1972. The object was to sabotage the Democratic presidential campaign. The operation was bungled, Liddy and the other “Watergate burglars” were arrested, and Liddy was ultimately convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and illegal wiretapping. He served four and a half years of a twenty-year sentence before President Jimmy Carter’s commutation freed him.
Liliuokalani (1838–1917) Lydia Kamakaeha was the sister of David Kalakaua, who was chosen king of Hawaii in 1874. When the heir apparent, Kalakaua’s brother, W.P. Leleiohoku, died in 1877, Lydia became heir presumptive and received her royal name, Liliuokalani. She ascended the Hawaiian throne in January 1891, when King Kalakaua died. The first woman to reign over Hawaii, she was also the last Hawaiian sovereign. Sanford Dole, the American-born head of the Missionary Party, asked her to abdicate in January 1893. When she refused, he simply declared her deposed, created a provisional government, and sought annexation by the United States. To avoid a civil war, Liliuokalani stepped down, but appealed to President Grover Cleveland to restore her. Cleveland gave the order, but Dole refused to obey it. A royalist insurrection erupted but was quickly suppressed, and on January 24, 1895, in exchange for pardons for her jailed partisans, the queen formally abdicated. She continued to fight U.S. annexation, which came nevertheless in July 1898—the very year in which she composed “Aloha Oe,” the most familiar of all Hawaiian songs.
Limbaugh, Rush (1951– ) Since 1988, Limbaugh has hosted a nationally syndicated conservative radio talk show, heard by an estimated 20 million listeners per week (as of 2007). Not only has Limbaugh been credited with articulating the conservative point of view for the masses, he was identified as a motivating force behind the 1994 Republican sweep of Congress. Media experts have even attributed the revival of AM radio—moribund by the 1970s—to Limbaugh’s tremendous popularity. In 2003, Limbaugh received unwanted publicity when his addiction to prescription pain relievers came to light.
Lincoln, Abraham (1809–1865) Almost universally regarded as the greatest of American presidents, Lincoln presided over a nation torn by the Civil War. He prosecuted that war to restore the Union, and, in the process, he set in place the legal machinery by which slavery in the United States was abolished. Lincoln was a leader of extraordinary courage, wisdom, eloquence, and compassion. Although he fought the war without compromise, he advocated amnesty and forgiveness for the breakaway Confederate states. Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer, on April 14, 1865. The president died the following morning.
Lincoln, Mary Todd (1818–1882) The wife of Abraham Lincoln (married on November 4, 1842), Mary Todd Lincoln endured the deaths of two of her sons in childhood (and a third as a young man), the emotional devastation of the Civil War (in which her half-brothers fought for the Confederacy), and the assassination of her husband. She was an unpopular First Lady, in part because of her Southern birth and in part because of her extravagant spending on clothing and furnishings. Like her husband, she suffered from bouts of severe depression. Her only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, caused her commitment to an asylum in 1875. She was released after a court hearing in 1876, but believed herself to have been publicly humiliated. She fled to Europe, returning to Springfield, Illinois, in 1880, where she died three years later.
Lindbergh, Anne Morrow (1906–2001) When Anne Morrow married him on May 27, 1929, Charles A. Lindbergh was the most famous man in America—perhaps in the world. Anne immediately took up flying and became the first American woman to earn a first-class glider pilot’s license. With her husband, she flew and charted air routes between continents throughout the 1930s. Together, the Lindberghs were the first pilots to fly from Africa to South America. Anne endured the loss of her firstborn, Charles Augustus Lindbergh III, who was kidnapped and murdered in 1932. She earned fame in her own right as an author, especially of autobiography, including her 1955 Gift from the Sea, a meditation on womanhood, and her most significant work of autobiography, Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead (1973).
Lindbergh, Charles A. (1902–1974) The maverick son of a U.S. Congressman from Minnesota, Lindbergh had a passion for flying, and on May 20–21, 1927, made the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic, from New York to Paris. The feat catapulted the tall, handsome, shy aviator to global fame. He was the most lauded non-military hero in American history. Lindbergh devoted much of the rest of his life to pioneering commercial aviation. With his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, he endured the tragic kidnapping and murder of his infant son in 1932, an episode that drew the heartfelt sympathy of the nation. He fell from grace, however, later in the 1930s for accepting a decoration from the Nazi government of Germany and, in 1940–1941, for his advocacy of American isolationism. In his later years, Lindbergh became a passionate environmentalist.
Lippmann, Walter (1889–1974) Through a career spanning 60 eventful years, Lippmann earned a reputation as America’s most respected political columnist and opinion maker. In 1914, he was a founder of The New Republic and a key advisor to President Woodrow Wilson. A true political philosopher, he speculated in his most provocative book, Public Opinion (1922), that democracy suffered in an era of mass communication, in which citizens were given slogans rather than genuine ideas. Despite his ongoing doubts about democratic government, he never abandoned the ideal of government by the people and remained a spokesman for the liberal point of view.
Lisa, Manuel (1772–1820) Born in New Orleans of Spanish parents, Lisa became a U.S. citizen following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. In 1807, he built a trading post fort at the mouth of the Bighorn River (in modern Montana), which developed into a center of the great American fur trade—the first important industry of the American West, which opened up commerce with the Indians of the region and generally spurred exploration and settlement of the Far West. Lisa’s establishment became the headquarters from which a generation of “mountain men”—fur traders and trappers—explored the remotest reaches of the North American continent.
Lodge, Henry Cabot (1850–1924) Like his chief rival, Woodrow Wilson, Lodge held a Ph.D. in political science and had been a college professor. In 1893, he was elected senator from Massachusetts and served until his death in 1924. An advocate of isolationism, he successfully opposed Wilson’s attempt to bring the United States into the League of Nations after World War I. Lodge’s opposition ushered in a Republican-dominated period of U.S. withdrawal from world affairs.
Lodge, Henry Cabot (1902–1985) Grandson and namesake of Henry Cabot Lodge (1850–1924), Lodge had a distinguished career in Republican politics, including service in the U.S. Senate (1937–1944, 1947–1952) and, most fatefully, as ambassador to South Vietnam during (1963–1964 and 1965–1967), the years of the expanding Vietnam War—an expansion Lodge advocated. In 1969, Lodge also served as chief negotiator in the Paris Peace talks between the United States and North Vietnam.
Loeb, Richard (1905–1936) On May 21, 1924, with college friend Nathan Leopold, Loeb kidnapped and murdered 14-year-old Robert (“Bobbie”) Franks for no other purpose than to commit the “perfect crime.” At trial, the pair was defended by Clarence Darrow, who did not claim the innocence of his clients, but successfully mitigated their sentence from death to life imprisonment, arguing for the first time in American legal history that they were psychopaths—sane, yet incapable of moral judgment. In contrast to Leopold, who, after parole in 1958, dedicated himself to working among the poor of Puerto Rico as a hospital technician, Loeb, the more ruthless of the two, was murdered by a fellow inmate, toward whom he had made sadistic homosexual overtures.
London, Jack (1876–1916) London was born John Griffith Chaney in San Francisco and led a life as an adventurous hobo-drifter, educating himself in public libraries. Inspired by the “superman” philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, he began to write stories of man against the elements, each tale suffused with his romantic interpretation of Nietzsche’s amoral will to survive and dominate. London wrote rapidly and became the most highly paid author in America. His most memorable works include Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906)—both set in Alaska—and The Sea Wolf (1904), his fullest portrait of the hero as a Nietzschean superman. No American writer has been more widely translated.
Long, Huey (1893–1935) Long rose from backwoods Louisiana poverty to become governor of the state and a U.S. senator. He was a charismatic demagogue, not above shameful displays of emotion and even buffoonery, which earned him the sobriquet “Kingfish.” Campaigning on the slogan “every man a king,” he developed a Share-the-Wealth program in which increased inheritance and income taxes, plus a severance tax on oil, were intended to redistribute wealth to the poor. He was also, however, a corrupt political boss, whose tenure in office amounted to a dictatorship. He paid a dictator’s price on September 10, 1935, when Carl Austin Weiss—whose father Long had publicly vilified—shot him down in the Louisiana state house.
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth (1807–1882) Born in Portland, Maine (at the time a part of Massachusetts), Longfellow graduated from Bowdoin College, where he read widely and began publishing verses of his own. He became a professor first at Bowdoin then at Harvard University. After the death of his wife in 1835, he began writing poetry in earnest—and in great abundance—colored by a lush romanticism. In addition to such popular lyrics as “The Village Blacksmith” (perhaps the best-known poem in American literature), he wrote American epic narratives, inspired by the long narratives of the ancient poets. The most important of these were Evangeline (1847)—the story of lovers separated when the British expelled the Acadians from Nova Scotia—and The Song of Hiawatha (1855), an evocation of an American Indian hero, inspired by the Finnish epic Kalevala.
Longstreet, James (1821–1904) A South Carolinian, Longstreet fought as a Confederate officer in many of the major battles of the Civil War. He was Robert E. Lee’s second in command at Gettysburg, and his reluctance to organize the celebrated “Pickett’s Charge” has often been cited as the reason for Lee’s defeat in this turning-point battle. (Many others, however, place the blame on Lee himself.) After Gettysburg, Longstreet performed brilliantly at Chickamauga in September 1863 and in the Wilderness Campaign. He was with Lee when the general surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865.
Lopez, Barry Holstun (1945– ) Lopez emerged in the 1970s as one of the nation’s most compelling writers on nature and the environment. Although works such as Of Wolves and Men (1978) and Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (1986) confront the natural world on its own terms, they also develop natural history as an extended metaphor to illuminate human moral issues, including humankind’s role in the system of nature.
Louis, Joe (1914–1981) Louis became world heavyweight champion on June 22, 1937, when he knocked out James J. Braddock, and he held the title until his first retirement on March 1, 1949. He held the title longer than any other heavyweight in history, successfully defending it 25 times (21 times by knockouts). A hero to the African-American community, Louis appealed to fight fans of all races. His 1938 victory over German champion Max Schmelling—who had the personal endorsement of Adolf Hitler—was widely hailed as a victory over Nazi claims of racial superiority.
Lowell, James Russell (1819–1891) In his day, Lowell was one of America’s most popular poets and essayists. His reputation declined in the 20th century, during which critics condemned him as excessively genteel and imitative. Nevertheless, his lasting impact on American literature was profound: as a critic, he educated the literary taste of the American public and created a popular interest in and respect for American literature.
Lowell, Robert, Jr. (1917–1977) Great grand-nephew of James Russell Lowell, Robert Lowell earned an international reputation for his complex and emotionally compelling autobiographical poems. He was honored by an appointment as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress and by two Pulitzer Prizes. In the 1960s, the ferment of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War drew him out of his autobiographical introspection and engendered three masterpiece volumes: For the Union Dead (1964), Near the Ocean (1967), and Notebook 1967–68 (1969).
Lucas, George (1944– ) Lucas combined a passion for science fiction with a passion for film to create some of the most spectacularly popular American movies in history. His first feature was THX 1138 (1971), a robotic science fiction tale, which instantly commanded a cult following. He stepped into the cultural mainstream in 1973 with American Graffiti, a richly nostalgic look at teenage life in the early 1960s. Despite the commercial success of this film, Lucas’s next movie did not appear until 1977. It was a return to science fiction with Star Wars, a highly imaginative feature that combined advanced special effects with the excitement and innocence of the matinee serials familiar to an earlier age of moviegoers. Star Wars proved a durable franchise, spawning various sequels and entering the pantheon of modern American pop culture.
Luce, Henry (1898–1967) Luce launched Time magazine with his Yale University chum Briton Haden in 1923 and took it over completely after Haden’s death in 1929. That same year, Luce introduced Fortune, a unique magazine devoted to business. Time was aimed at presenting news with a point of view; Fortune was intended to be indispensable to the person of business; and in 1936, Life was introduced as a popular picture magazine. With this triumvirate, Luce had created the first great American magazine empire and became one of the most influential opinion makers in the world.
Luciano, Lucky (1896–1962) From the day Luciano (born Salvatore Lucania) emigrated from Italy with his parents at age ten, he embraced criminal activity, beginning with strong-arm robbery, shoplifting, and extortion, and soon graduating to drug dealing before entering the organized underworld of New York City and rising to the top of the various rackets. By the early 1930s, Luciano had become capo di tutti capi (“boss of all the bosses”) and in 1934 succeeded in organizing criminal enterprises nationwide into a kind of cartel or syndicate of unprecedented power and influence. Successfully prosecuted by New York’s Thomas E. Dewey in 1936, Luciano was given a 30– to 50–year sentence, ruling his criminal empire from his cell. In 1946, his sentence was commuted to deportation. He then continued to influence American criminal enterprise even from abroad.
Luks, George (1867–1933) Luks made his early living in art as a newspaper correspondent-artist and then as a newspaper cartoonist. He earned enough money to finance study in Paris during 1902–1903, where he was not only exposed to modern art, but to the rich life of the city. It was this latter interest that he brought back with him when he returned to New York. With like-minded artists, Luks founded a group called simply The Eight, which soon became associated with a larger movement in American urban realism. The press dubbed it the “Ashcan School,” and Luks was one of the leading practitioners of this distinctly modern, distinctly American style.