Summary and book reviews of The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson

The Code Breaker

Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

by Walter Isaacson

The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson X
The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2021, 560 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 1, 2022, 560 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Scott C. Martin
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

The bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs returns with a gripping 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 co-discovery 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 a thrilling detective tale that involves the most profound wonders of nature, from the origins of life to the future of our species.

Introduction
Into the Breach

Jennifer Doudna couldn't sleep. Berkeley, the university where she was a superstar for her role in inventing the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR, had just shut down its campus because of the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic. Against her better judgment, she had driven her son, Andy, a high school senior, to the train station so he could go to Fresno for a robot-building competition. Now, at 2 a.m., she roused her husband and insisted that they retrieve him before the start of the match, when more than twelve hundred kids would be gathering in an indoor convention center. They pulled on their clothes, got in the car, found an open gas station, and made the three-hour drive. Andy, an only child, was not happy to see them, but they convinced him to pack up and come home. As they pulled out of the parking lot, Andy got a text from the team: "Robotics match cancelled! All kids to leave immediately!"

This was the moment, Doudna recalls, that she realized...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Overall, this is an outstanding combination of biography, current events and science writing all in one volume. Being an Isaacson work, there is a lot of material to get through, but it is incredibly readable and engaging. The visual aids (including a graphic that describes exactly how CRISPR works) are especially insightful. While it is a substantial book, The Code Breaker is worth the time investment...continued

Full Review Members Only (701 words).

(Reviewed by Scott C. Martin).

Media Reviews

Oprah Magazine.com
Isaacson’s vivid account is a page-turning detective story and an indelible portrait of a revolutionary thinker who, as an adolescent in Hawai’i, was told that girls don’t do science. Nevertheless, she persisted.

The Washington Post
Isaacson lays everything out with his usual lucid prose; it’s brisk and compelling and even funny throughout. You’ll walk away with a deeper understanding of both the science itself and how science gets done — including plenty of mischief

New York Review of Books
Deftly written, conveying the history of CRISPR and also probing larger themes: the nature of discovery, the development of biotech, and the fine balance between competition and collaboration that drives many scientists.

AARP
Isaacson...offers a startling, insightful look at this lifesaving, hugely significant scientific advancement and the brilliant Doudna, who wrestles with the serious moral questions that accompany her creation. Should this technology be offered to parents to tailor-make their babies into athletes or Einsteins? Who gets altered and saved and why?

Scientific American
Isaacson expertly plumbs the moral ambiguity surrounding this new technology.

Minneapolis Star Tribune
The Code Breaker marks the confluence of perfect writer, perfect subject and perfect timing. The result is almost certainly the most important book of the year.

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

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A magisterial biography of the co-discoverer of what has been called the greatest advance in biology since the discovery of DNA....Those familiar with college-level biology will have a better time, but nobody will regret the reading experience. A vital book about the next big thing in science—and yet another top-notch biography from Isaacson.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Biographer Isaacson depicts science at its most exhilarating in this lively biography...a gripping account of a great scientific advancement and of the dedicated scientists who realized it.

Booklist (starred review)
In Isaacson's splendid saga of how big science really operates, curiosity and creativity, discovery and innovation, obsession and strong personalities, competitiveness and collaboration, and the beauty of nature all stand out.

Author Blurb Jon Meacham
Walter Isaacson is our Renaissance biographer, a writer of unusual range and depth who has plumbed lives of genius to illuminate fundamental truths about human nature. From Leonardo to Steve Jobs, from Benjamin Franklin to Albert Einstein, Isaacson has given us an unparalleled canon of work that chronicles how we have come to live the way we do. Now, in a magnificent, compelling, and wholly original book, he turns his attention to the next frontier: that of gene editing and the role science may play in reshaping the nature of life itself. This is an urgent, sober, accessible, and altogether brilliant achievement.

Author Blurb Doris Kearns Goodwin
When a great biographer combines his own fascination with science and a superb narrative style, the result is magic. This important and powerful work, written in the tradition of The Double Helix, allows us not only to follow the story of a brilliant and inspired scientist as she engages in a fierce competitive race, but to experience for ourselves the wonders of nature and the joys of discovery.

Author Blurb Atul Gawande
He's done it again. The Code Breaker is another Walter Isaacson must-read. This time he has a heroine who will be for the ages; a worldwide cast of remarkable, fiercely competitive scientists; and a string of discoveries that will change our lives far more than the iPhone did. The tale is gripping. The implications mind-blowing.

Reader Reviews

CarolT

Fascinating
A must read. While Doudna is the focus, the real hero is RNA and all the folks who have so single-mindedly spent their lives understanding the genetic code and what that understanding means for all of us, in the context of the last 20 months.

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Conflicts Over Credit: CRISPR and HIV

 shaking handsWhen a scientific breakthrough is achieved, it can be a moment of major celebration. Depending on the implications of that advancement, previously unknown individuals can find themselves vaulted into the highest levels of celebrity. Yet, the challenge of deciding who is truly responsible for the scientific advancement can be contentious. Very rarely does one person make a discovery in a vacuum, as other researchers are often working the same problem set. This is seen throughout scientific history and in recent times.

In The Code Breaker, Walter Isaacson explains how the potential for using CRISPR and CaS9 to edit DNA was a significant advancement in gene editing with implications for the future of medicine and humanity. However, no ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Read-alikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Walter Isaacson

If you liked The Code Breaker, try these:

  • Some Assembly Required jacket

    Some Assembly Required

    by Neil Shubin

    Published 2021

    About this book

    More by this author

    The author of the best-selling Your Inner Fish gives us a lively and accessible account of the great transformations in the history of life on Earth--a new view of the evolution of human and animal life that explains how the incredible diversity of life on our planet came to be.

  • Livewired jacket

    Livewired

    by David Eagleman

    Published 2021

    About this book

    More by this author

    From the best-selling author of Incognito and Sum comes a revelatory portrait of the human brain, based on the most recent scientific discoveries about how it continually adapts, recreates, and formulates new ways of understanding the world we live in.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search read-alikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    The Last Mona Lisa
    by Jonathan Santlofer
    In 1911, the Mona Lisa disappeared from its home at the Louvre in Paris. It took two years for the ...
  • Book Jacket: The Women of Troy
    The Women of Troy
    by Pat Barker
    Set in the liminal days following the Trojan War, The Women of Troy follows Briseis, who the reader ...
  • Book Jacket: The Magician
    The Magician
    by Colm Toibin
    Thomas Mann — the subject of this biographical novel by Colm Tóibín — is ...
  • Book Jacket: Cloud Cuckoo Land
    Cloud Cuckoo Land
    by Anthony Doerr
    Anthony Doerr's Cloud Cuckoo Land may be even more remarkable than his Pulitzer-prize winning work ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Morningside Heights
by Joshua Henkin
A tender and big-hearted novel about love in the face of loss, from the award-winning author of The World Without You.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Flesh & Blood
    by N. West Moss

    This beautifully written memoir offers insight, understanding, and joy.

Win This Book!
Win Sisters of the Great War

Sisters of the Great War by Suzanne Feldman

A powerful novel of two unconventional American sisters who volunteer at the front during World War I.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

L Said, S M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.