Nabokov, Vladimir (1899–1977) Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born in Russia and immigrated to England in 1919, lived variously in Europe, then came to the United States, becoming a citizen in 1945. A prolific author in Russian as well as English, his most famous novel is Lolita (1955), the narrative of a middle-aged man’s obsession with a seductively nubile young girl. A controversial bestseller, the novel treated sensational and provocative material with extraordinarily elegant word play and intricate, bravura literary effects. The character of Lolita became an icon of popular culture.
Nader, Ralph (1934– ) Nader earned his law degree from Harvard in 1958 and while working as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Labor, published in 1965 Unsafe at Any Speed, which assaulted the U.S. auto industry for sacrificing safety to profits. The book made Nader a household name and prompted passage in 1966 of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which gave the federal government substantial authority in promulgating automobile safety standards. Nader went on to lead a band of dedicated consumer and social activists (“Nader’s Raiders”), who attacked a wide range of public policy issues. He also founded Public Citizen, a major advocacy group. Nader ran for president as Green Party candidate in 1996 and 2000.
Naismith, James (1861–1939) In 1891, Canadian-born Naismith was an instructor at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. In search of way to increase YMCA attendance during the winter, he invented an entirely new indoor game, which he called basketball. It used a ball and two peach baskets as goals, and because it was intended for indoor play, players were not allowed to tackle or otherwise make contact with one another, nor were they permitted to run with the ball. Basketball quickly developed into one of the most popular games in the United States.
Nast, Thomas (1840–1902) Born in Bavaria, Nast immigrated to the United States as a boy of six and, at 15, became an artist for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. He depicted stirring action scenes in the Civil War (Lincoln called him “our best recruiting sergeant”), but was best known for his scathing political cartoons attacking William M. “Boss” Tweed, the corrupt political leader of New York’s Tammany Hall in the 1870s. Thanks largely to Nast, Tammany collapsed. Nast also created the donkey and elephant that became the enduring emblems of the Democratic and Republican parties.
Ness, Eliot (1903–1957) In 1929, Ness was hired as a Department of Justice agent to lead the Chicago branch of the Prohibition Bureau for the purpose of investigating and prosecuting the infamous Al Capone. His force of nine investigators, regarded as immune to corruption, were dubbed the Untouchables. Information gathered by the Untouchables eventually resulted in Capone’s conviction for income tax evasion.
Nevelson, Louise (1899/1900–1988) Born Louise Berliawsky in Kiev, Ukraine, she immigrated to the United States with her family in 1905 and in 1920 married businessman Charles Nevelson, whom she subsequently left in order to pursue her artistic career. Nevelson created unique abstract sculptures, typically monochromatic, and almost always interlocking assemblages of found objects. Although she exhibited as early as 1941, it was not until the 1950s that she received wide recognition.
Newton, Huey P. (1942–1989) Newton was an African American political activist who co-founded (with Bobby Seale) the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California, in 1966, to defend the black community against police brutality. Many in the white community considered the Black Panthers a street gang and Newton an example of dangerous black militancy; however, Newton saw the Panthers as a means of providing social services to the black community. Accused of murder in 1974 (he had previously served time for manslaughter), Newton fled to Cuba, but returned to face charges. Two trials ended in hung juries. Newton earned a Ph.D. in social philosophy from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1980. He was found, shot to death, on an Oakland street in 1989.
Niebuhr, Reinhold (1892–1971) Niebuhr’s critique of theological liberalism during the 1920s profoundly shaped modern American Protestantism. For many intellectual Protestants, it was Niebuhr’s philosophy that helped them to maintain their faith. During World War II, this former pacifist played an important role in persuading American Christians to support the struggle against Hitler and Nazism.
Nimitz, Chester W. (1885–1966) A brilliant administrator, strategist, and naval leader, Nimitz was the principal architect of the U.S. naval victory against Japan in the Pacific during World War II. He had overall command of all naval and land forces and, in conjunction with General Douglas MacArthur, formulated the “island-hopping” strategy that closed in on the Japanese home islands, leading to the defeat of the enemy and the end of the war.
Nixon, Richard M. (1913–1994) A California Republican, Nixon rose to national prominence as a red-baiting U.S. representative (1948–1951) and senator (1951–1953), earning the epithet “Tricky Dick” for his ruthless campaign tactics. Tapped as Dwight Eisenhower’s running mate in 1952, he served two terms as vice-president (1953–1961), then was defeated by John F. Kennedy in the presidential elections of 1960 and also lost the California gubernatorial race in 1962. Although many wrote off his political career, he reemerged as the Republican presidential candidate in 1968 and defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey. Nixon promised to end the war in Vietnam, and although he did withdraw large numbers of U.S. troops, he expanded the air war with massive bomb strikes and invaded Vietnam’s neighbor, Cambodia. His Vietnam policy increased the tempo and severity of antiwar demonstrations in the U.S. Conservative though it was, the Nixon administration also saw great strides in environmental legislation and in progress toward the end of the Cold War, as this hardline “Cold Warrior” reached out to the Soviet Union and, more successfully, to China. “Tricky Dick” reemerged, however, miring his second term in the Watergate scandal, a complex of illegal activities to sabotage the Democrats in 1972 and to cover it up afterward. At 11:35 a.m. on August 9, 1974, Nixon became the first U.S. president to resign his office.
Noguchi, Isamu (1904–1988) Although born in Los Angeles, Noguchi grew up in Japan, then studied sculpture in New York and worked as Constantin Brancusi’s assistant in Paris. In that city, he fell under the influence of the great modern sculptors Alberto Giacometti and Alexander Calder as well as the painters Picasso and Miró. Propelled by these influences, he went on to develop a sculptural style all his own, abstractions built on organic shapes, suggesting a harmonious relation to nature. His work was often integrated into modern buildings, and he designed entire sculptural gardens, bringing nature into the often relentlessly mechanical modern scene.
Norris, Frank (1870–1902) A West Coast journalist, Norris created a new kind of American novel, which embodied a “naturalist” vision, suggesting that human events were driven by essentially natural forces, amoral and beyond the individual’s will or control. McTeague (1899) presented an almost surreal vision in this vein, telling the story of brutish dentist who kills his wife then dies as he flees through Death Valley. His subsequent work was more realistic, culminating in The Octopus (1901), which depicted the amoral forces of economics in society. Norris’s life was cut short by a failed appendicitis operation.
North, Oliver (1943– ) North was a U.S. Marine lieutenant colonel assigned as chief aide to Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter, national security advisor to President Ronald Reagan. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration wanted to support the “contras,” a right-wing military group opposed to the Marxist Sandinista government of Nicaragua. When Congress barred such aid, North, with Poindexter, formulated a secret plan by which the United States would sell arms to Iran (a terrorist nation and sworn enemy of America) in order to persuade it to help secure the liberation of U.S. hostages held in Lebanon. Additionally, the proceeds from the arms sale would be funneled to the contras, without the knowledge of Congress. Exposure of “Iran scam” or “Iran-gate”—as the press called the affair—in 1986 threatened to topple the Reagan administration and resulted in the prosecution of North (convictions were later dismissed).
Novak, Robert (1931– ) Novak built his journalistic career on political reporting and commentary with an insider’s view. He had access to so many highly placed sources that colleagues and politicians dubbed him the “Prince of Darkness.” In 2003, he “outed” in his column undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame, wife of an opponent of George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. The subsequent investigation of deliberate leaks from high-level Bush administration sources shook the administration and resulted in the prosecution of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Novak’s motives and ethics came under sharp scrutiny, as did the political agendas of a number of journalists on the left as well as the right.