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Anatol Rapoport was born in Lozovaya, Russia on May 22, 1911. In 1922 the family emigrated to the United States and settled in Chicago. He initially trained as a classical musician, studying music in Vienna, where he received a diploma in composition, piano and conducting from the Staatsakademie für Musik und darsteellende Kunst (State Academy of Music and Performing Arts) in 1933. While in Vienna, he contributed to the journal Musical Courier, and then performed as a concert pianist and lectured on the semantics of music in Europe and the Americas. He played at concerts in Austria, Poland, Hungary and Italy before returning to the United States the following year. Over the years he also became multilingual and fluent in English, German and Russian, with an oral understanding of French and Spanish.
Rapoport found he could not make a career as a musician in North America so turned to mathematics, studying under Nicholas Rashevsky at the University of Chicago, from which he received his doctorate in 1941. During World War II, he served in the United States Air Force in Alaska and India. After demobilization in 1946, he taught mathematics at the Illinois Institute of Technology before, in 1947, joining the Committee of Mathematical Biology at the University of Chicago. In the same year his first scientific papers, dealing with mathematical models of parasitism and symbiosis, appeared in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biophysics. They provided a conceptual basis for his life’s work – the study of conflict and co-operation.
In 1954 he took a year’s leave to go to the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University’s prestigious “think tank”, where he concentrated on mathematical biophysics and helped found the International Society for General Systems Research. He then moved to the University of Michigan as one of the first three faculty members of the Mental Health Research Institute in the Department of Psychiatry. Here he started research on war and peace, conflict and conflict resolution. He was one of the earliest investigators to use experimental games as tools of research on conflict and co-operation; the famous Prisoner’s Dilemma game has always been associated with him.
In 1968 Rapoport was a visiting professor at the Institut für höhere Studien (Institute for Advanced Studies) in Vienna, and briefly emigrated to Denmark where he was, for 1968-1969, visiting professor at the Technical University of Denmark. The family then came to Canada where he had accepted the position of professor of psychology and mathematics at the University of Toronto. He retired in 1976 but returned to teach for another year, before becoming a roving visiting professor at the Institut für höhere Studien (1976 and 1977), Wissenschaftszentrum in Berlin (1978), the University of Hiroshima (1978) and the University of Louisville (1979). In 1980 he was appointed professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Toronto and then director of the Institut für höhere Studien, a position he held for four years.
Back in Toronto, he was appointed professor of peace studies at the University of Toronto in 1984, where he initiated what evolved into a four-year degree program in peace studies. He held the position until 1996, but continued to teach until 2000. In 1984 he joined the newly-formed organization, Science for Peace, was elected president and remained on its executive until 1998. His wife, Gwen, did administrative work for the organization and edited its newsletter. In the same year he created the famous Tit for Tat strategy for the iterated prisoner’s dilemma tournament held by Robert Axelrod.
Rapoport is the author of twenty books and more than 400 published articles. His books have been translated into Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. He was editor of General Systems from 1956 to 1977, and associate editor of the Journal of Conflict Resolution, Behavioral Science, and ETC: A Review of General Semantics. He was also a member of the editorial board of about ten journals. He was president of the International Society of General Semantics from 1953-1955, of the Society of General Systems Research in 1965-1966, of the Canadian Peace Research and Education Foundation Association from 1972-1975, and of Science for Peace (1984-1986). In addition to a nomination for the Nobel Prize and honorary degrees from Western Michigan University, the University of Toronto and Royal Military College, he has received the Lenz International Peace Prize and the Harold D. Lasswell Award for Political Psychology. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science, the American Mathematical Society, and the Society for Mathematical Biology.
In 1949, Rapoport married Gwen Goodrich. They have three children, Anya, Alexander and Anthony.