This article summarizes advances in the synthesis of well-defined polypeptides and block copolypeptides. Traditional methods used to polymerize α-amino acid-N-carboxyanhydrides (NCAs) are described, and limitations in the utility of these systems for the preparation of polypeptides are discussed. Improved initiators and methods that allow polypeptide synthesis with good control over chain length, chain length distribution, and chain-end functionality are also discussed. Using these methods, block and random copolypeptides of controlled dimensions (including molecular weight, sequence, composition, and molecular weight distribution) can now be prepared. The ability of well-defined block copolypeptides to assemble into supramolecular copolypeptide micelles, copolypeptide vesicles, and copolypeptide hydrogels is described. Many of these assemblies have been found to possess unique properties that are derived from the amino acid building blocks and ordered conformations of the polypeptide segments. © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013.