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A lifetime of achieving the gold standard of interdisciplinary research

Table of contents

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Foreword by Douglas Hofstadter
Part I. A Splendid Education
    1. Family, Math, and Competitiveness
    2. Computers and Modeling
    3. Culture and More Math at College    
    4. Internships on Statistics, Evolution, and National Security
    5. Political Science in Graduate School
Part II. Being There
    6. Berkeley in a Time of Troubles, 1968-74
    7. Walking the Interdisciplinary Walk at Michigan, 1974-
Part III. Cooperation
    8. Tournaments
    9. Evolution
    10. Trench Warfare
    11. Responses
Part IV. Self-Organization
    12. Minimizing the Strangeness of Bedfellows
    13. Social Polarization
    14. Belief Systems
Part V. Sex and Cancer
    15. The Reason for Sexual Reproduction
    16. Cancer as Social Dysfunction
Part VI. Outside the Ivory Tower
    17. Opposing the Vietnam War
    18. Trying to Reduce the Risk of War
    19. Countering Hostile Influence
Part VII. Concluding Thoughts
    20. Crossing the Moat
    21. Looking Forward
List of Illustrations Figure 1. In Oval Office, March 6,1961
Figure 2. The BACH group in the late 1980s
From left to right: Michael Cohen, Robert Axelrod, William Hamilton, Arthur Burks, John Holland, Rick Riolo, Michael Savageau, Carl Simon.
Figure 3. Possible Alignments on the Eve of World War II
Figure 4. Rich Davis, me, Scott Atran, and Safwat Hegazi in Cairo, Oct. 2012
Figure 5. Receiving the National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama, November 20, 2014


A Passion for Cooperation is the exciting autobiography of Robert Axelrod, one of the most acclaimed and wide-ranging scientists of the last fifty years. After being recognized by President Kennedy for being a promising young scientist while in high school, Axelrod built a career dedicated to collaborating with business school professors, international relations scholars, political scientists, computer scientists, and even evolutionary biologists and cancer researchers. Fifty years later, he was honored by President Obama with the National Medal of Science for scientific achievement and leadership and his work has been referred to as the gold standard of interdisciplinary research. 

Yet Axelrod’s autobiography is not just an account of his wide-ranging passion for cooperation. It reveals his struggles to overcome failures and experience the joys of gaining new insights into how to achieve cooperation. A Passion for Cooperation recounts Robert Axelrod’s adventures talking with the leader of the organization Hamas, the Prime Minister of Israel, and the Foreign Minister of Syria. Axelrod also shares stories of being hosted in Kazakhstan by senior Soviet retired generals and visiting China with well-connected policy advisors on issues of military aspects of cyber conflict. Through stories of the difficulties and rewards of interdisciplinary collaborations, readers will discover how Axelrod’s academic and practical work have enriched each other and demonstrated that opportunities for cooperation are much greater than generally thought. 

Robert Axelrod is Distinguished University Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Emeritus, at the University of Michigan. He is best known for his work on the evolution of cooperation. His many honors include a MacArthur Prize Fellowship and the National Medal of Science, “nation’s highest honor for scientific achievement and leadership.”

“Bob Axelrod is among the most creative and influential social scientists of his generation. He has won virtually every major scholarly award in the various fields to which he has contributed and often helped to create. His autobiography gives us a unique inside-out view of how this remarkable mind works.”
—Robert D. Putnam, Harvard Kennedy School, author of Bowling Alone

- Robert D. Putnam

“I was a college student when I first encountered Robert Axelrod’s pathbreaking research on cooperation. It captured my imagination more fully than anything I had seen before, and indeed, more fully than just about anything I have seen since! Robert Axelrod is one of my heroes, so, for me, this book was a blessing. I soaked up its stories and insights. Rarely do I get to the end of a book and wish it would keep going.”
—Steven Levitt, University of Chicago, author of Freakonomics

- Steven Levitt

“When you read Bob Axelrod’s autobiography, your first impression is that this is someone you would really like if you knew him, the second that he would be absolutely fascinating to talk to. Fifty years’ acquaintance confirms that both are true. Readers will find here a remarkable, charming, and disarming book.”
—Mark Granovetter, Stanford University, author of “The Strength of Weak Ties”

- Mark Granovetter

“Professor Robert Axelrod’s works are among the classic textbooks in the field of international politics in China. His achievements have played an important role in the development of China’s international relations. For example, it has raised awareness among policymakers that not all rivalries need be zero-sum.”
—Lu Chuanying, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, author of China and Cybersecurity

- Lu Chuanying