The Code Breaker

The Code Breaker : Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

4.3 (26,602 ratings by Goodreads)
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4.3 (26,602 ratings by Goodreads)
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A Best Book of 2021 by Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Time, and The Washington Post

The bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs returns with a "compelling" (The Washington Post) account of how Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues launched a revolution that will allow us to cure diseases, fend off viruses, and have healthier babies.

When Jennifer Doudna was in sixth grade, she came home one day to find that her dad had left a paperback titled The Double Helix on her bed. She put it aside, thinking it was one of those detective tales she loved. When she read it on a rainy Saturday, she discovered she was right, in a way. As she sped through the pages, she became enthralled by the intense drama behind the competition to discover the code of life. Even though her high school counselor told her girls didn't become scientists, she decided she would.

Driven by a passion to understand how nature works and to turn discoveries into inventions, she would help to make what the book's author, James Watson, told her was the most important biological advance since his codiscovery of the structure of DNA. She and her collaborators turned a curiosity of nature into an invention that will transform the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions.

The development of CRISPR and the race to create vaccines for coronavirus will hasten our transition to the next great innovation revolution. The past half-century has been a digital age, based on the microchip, computer, and internet. Now we are entering a life-science revolution. Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code.

Should we use our new evolution-hacking powers to make us less susceptible to viruses? What a wonderful boon that would be! And what about preventing depression? Hmmm...Should we allow parents, if they can afford it, to enhance the height or muscles or IQ of their kids?

After helping to discover CRISPR, Doudna became a leader in wrestling with these moral issues and, with her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the Nobel Prize in 2020. Her story is an "enthralling detective story" (Oprah Daily) that involves the most profound wonders of nature, from the origins of life to the future of our species.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 560 pages
  • 163 x 241 x 43mm | 943g
  • English
  • Illustrations, unspecified
  • 1982115858
  • 9781982115852
  • 21,920

Review quote

"Mr. Isaacson is a great storyteller and a national treasure -- like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and of course his latest subject, Jennifer Doudna." -- The East Hampton Star

"The journalist who told the life stories of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs is back with a timely biography of Jennifer Doudna, PhD, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry. It's a fast-paced account of her life as a pathbreaking scientist on CRISPR -- and how gene editing could alter all life as we know it." -- Medium

"This challenging, fascinating story examines Doudna's background and excavates the moral quandaries she grapples with as her creation opens up more and more avenues for scientific advancement." -- Elle

"It is a gripping tale, showing how our new ability to hack evolution will soon start throwing us curveballs." -- New Scientist

"[A] fascinating story... [Isaacson's] unique skill as a master storyteller of scientific development over the centuries has educated not only his fellow Baby Boomers, but also succeeding generations, helping people of all ages and backgrounds travel down the long and winding road toward understanding how life works." - Washington Independent Review of Books

"[A] marvelous biography... With his dynamic and formidable style, Isaacson explains the long scientific journey that led to this tool's discovery and the exciting developments that have followed....Isaacson is truly an immersive tour guide, combining the energy of a TED Talk with the intimacy of a series of fireside chats....For readers seeking to understand the many twists, turns and nuances of the biotechnology revolution, there's no better place to turn than The Code Breaker."- BookPage

" Isaacson expertly plumbs the moral ambiguity surrounding this new technology. "-Scientific American
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About Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson, a professor of history at Tulane, has been CEO of the Aspen Institute, chair of CNN, and editor of Time. He is the author of Leonardo da Vinci; The Innovators; Steve Jobs; Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life; and Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. Visit him at
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Rating details

26,602 ratings
4.3 out of 5 stars
5 49% (12,917)
4 37% (9,851)
3 12% (3,080)
2 2% (533)
1 1% (221)
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