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

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  25,289 ratings  ·  3,451 reviews
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. 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.

Hardcover, 536 pages
Published March 9th 2021 by Simon Schuster
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Deb Jel Typically, I read digitally, but for this book, I purchased the hard copy and also listened on Audible, sometimes together! The audio version has exce…moreTypically, I read digitally, but for this book, I purchased the hard copy and also listened on Audible, sometimes together! The audio version has excellent narration by Kathe Mazur. I opted for the hardcopy to easily share with others; this is a fascinating book I want to have in my hands.(less)
Jonathan You will learn all about CRISPR in this book and it’s worth knowing

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Bill Gates
Jan 24, 2022 rated it really liked it
The CRISPR gene editing system is one of the coolest and perhaps most consequential scientific breakthroughs of the last decade. I’m familiar with it because of my work at the foundation—we’re funding a number of projects that use the technology—but I still learned a lot from this comprehensive and accessible book about its discovery by Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues. Isaacson does a good job highlighting the most important ethical questions around gene editing ...more
JanB(on vacation till October)
3.5 stars

Until 2020, only five women, beginning with Marie Curie in 1911, had won a Nobel for chemistry. But 2020 was the year it went to two women, Jennifer Doudna and French colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier, for the development of CRISPR, a gene editing technology.

Isaacson hones in on Doudna and Charpentier, but he also highlights others in the scientific community whose work led the way and contributed to this new discovery. Some of the more interesting chapters deals with biohackers, rivalr
Apr 05, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
I've taken it from five stars to four after mulling the book and having written the review, I realize I only want to give it three. This is a good book but too wide in scope. It's not a biography of Jennifer Doudna, although there is a focus on her.

For those who think the covid-19 was discovered with amazing rapidity, that's not true. Doudna and Charpentier (actually Charpentier made the key discovery but this book has some bias in favor of American scientists) discovered their particular CRISP
Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)
I have loved all the three books that I was fortunate enough to read by Walter Issacson from Einstein, The Innovators, to Steve Job, this author was able to enthrall me with the main topics he chose to share and write of. However, sad to say, his new book on Jennifer Doudna entitled The Code Breaker really left me feeling disappointed and let down. Wondering why this was, I will preface this that there was a huge amount of science, very technical science which did bog down the story. Now, I do ...more
May 09, 2021 rated it it was ok

Isaacson may be brilliant at writing biographies (I've never read any of them), but this book is neither a comprehensive biography of Jennifer Doudna (or any of the other scientists involved), nor is it a decent science book that explains the science of the CRISPR (a gene editing tool) mechanism in any detail. This is rather an all over the place, long-winded, and choppy mish-mash of vague biography with history and a bit of science, starting with the discovery of DNA by James Watson and proceed
Nyamka Ganni
CRISPR(Jennifer Doudna et al. 🤩) + Walter Isaacson => AWESOMENESS!!

It was good! Very good indeed.

Title is a bit misleading. It is not a full biography of Jennifer Doudna alone. Rather, it’s a biography of CRISPR technology and a detailed story of how it was discovered from fascinating and complicated collaborations between numerous great scientists. The story of CRISPR is not done yet.
The research is still ongoing and very much alive. This technology is promising us A Brave New World of geneti
Sep 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio, overdrive
I wanted to read more about the scientific basis and ethical implications of genetic modification. I was also interested in the role of CRISPR in the development of vaccines. This book accomplished that, but it told me more about the lives of the scientists and their rivalries than I wanted to know. Most of them have turned their discoveries into business ventures and I had no interest in their race to publish first or their patent lawsuits. The last 20 -25% of the book was the most interesting ...more
Mar 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, science
I had been literally dying to read this book since when Walter Isaacson posted about this online. Earlier he had authored da Vinci's biohgraphy in 2017. After finishing that book, I wondered whether I would be lucky enough to read another work from him. Yeah, I have been lucky in that sense ~ It took only four years!

Well, what can I say about this book? I am feeling intensely emotioanl about this one and obviously, I would give it A Thousand Stars! Apart from Atul Gawande's "Being Mortal", this
Lou (nonfiction fiend)
Mar 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The Code Breaker is a gripping account of how the pioneering scientist Jennifer Doudna, along with her colleagues and rivals, launched a revolution that will allow us to cure diseases, fend off viruses, and enhance our children. In the spring of 2012, the Berkeley biochemist Jennifer Doudna and her collaborators turned a curiosity of nature into an invention that will transform the future of the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of me ...more
Heather K (dentist in my spare time)

*3.5 stars*

I read The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race for a few reasons, one to have some talking points when people say nonsense about vaccines, and another because I always like to have a "respectable" book to talk to patients about so I don't have to reveal that I enjoy alien/human romances...

I think The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race was very informative, even if the storytelling felt a bit all ove
Otis Chandler
Walter Isaacson is a true storyteller, and this book yet another compelling, fast to read, educational, biography. He goes deep into the fascinating and burgeoning world of CRISPR to explain it and its origins. And it's clear that CRISPR is changing the world, and will be something we are all familiar with in the decades to come.

The moral dilemmas CRISPR brings are large, and the book appropriately spends a lot of time on them. So far, most scientists and governments have approached it from the
Morgan Blackledge
May 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is a thrilling account of the very recent history of CRISPR Cas9 gene editing technology.

Of equal interest and import.

The book sheds light on how sexism racism and xenophobia play out in contemporary science.

For those readers (like me) who are still fuzzy on CRISPR...

CRISPR (pronounced crisper) is an acronym for: clustered (C) regularly (R) interspaced (I) short (S) palindromic (P) repeats (R).

CRISPR is a type of DNA sequence, found in bacteria that have previously been infected by a virus
Jun 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
Walter Isaacson has, in Code Breaker, made an excellent argument for the value of basic scientific research. When biochemists first understood what the "junk DNA" in bacteria were designed to do, it was to all appearances, an interesting but inconsequential discovery. The junk DNA was actually part of the bacteria's immune system; the bacteria used RNA to extract snippets of attacking virus' genetic code in order to remember them next time and attack the dangerous viruses. As time went on, other ...more
Left Coast Justin
DNF at 22%.

Mr. Isaacson and I just don't see eye to eye. Here we find Isaacson tut-tutting over James Watson's sexist treatment of Rosalind Franklin, a crystallographer whose data and interpretation of same were critical to establishing the structure of DNA:
Franklin was a focused scientist, sensibly dressed. As a result she ran afoul of English academia's fondness for eccentrics and its tendency to look at women through a sexual lens, attitudes apparent in Watson's descriptions of her. "Though h
Diane S ☔
Feb 15, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: nf2022
Thoughts soon.
La Crosse County Library

“I began this journey thinking that biotechnology was the next great scientific revolution, a subject that was filled with awe-inspiring natural wonders, research rivalries, thrilling discoveries, lifesaving triumphs, and creative pioneers such as Jennifer Doudna, Emmanuelle Charpentier, and Feng Zhang. The Year of the Plague made me realize I was understating the case.” --Walter Isaacson, in the epilogue of The Code Breaker

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing,
Mar 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
Walter Isaacson’s The Code Breaker is full of some really smart people. Now while nobody in their right mind would ever describe me as smart (usually the descriptions tend to veer towards: well-meaning, doing the best he can with what he has, unusually sticky, and strangely flavorful. But never smart.), and while many of the scientific details in The Code Breaker were a struggle for me to comprehend (at the conclusion of this book my poor pecan-sized brain felt like it had just completed 16 non- ...more
Nov 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
When O started reading this book I was a bout weary about it. Even though I believe in science whole heartedly I'm not very knowledgeable about the in and outs of it. But ai was intrigued that this what about a woman and her research sounded interesting so I decided to give it a go. I'm so glad I did. It was an very informative book with a lot of interesting facts and such. Wasn't aware it was going to mention a lot of other people as well. The other biographies by Walter Isaacson had focuses on ...more
Literary Redhead
Isaacson is a biographer’s biographer and THE CODE BREAKER shows why his books totally absorb us. He has a way of revealing absorbing truth about his subjects — in this case, biochemist and gene scientist Jennifer Doudna, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize for the revolutionary DNA-editing tool called CRISPR.

Jennifer’s father gave her a copy of The Double Helix when she was six, sparking her keen interest in gene research. Later its author, James Watson, said her CRISPR development was “the most im
Stoic Reader
Apr 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
What a beautiful, remarkable book! The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson is about fathoming the joyful and inspiring wonders of life through the lens of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) which are the hallmark of a bacterial defense system that forms the basis for CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology. Scientific in nature, but Isaacson's approach is akin to a detective novel where tensions and conflicts loom in the race of brilliant scientists to finally discover ...more
Dr. Been
Feb 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
"One fundamental aspect of science will remain the same. It has always been a collaboration across generations, from Darwin and Mendel to Watson and Crick and Franklin to Doudna and Charpentier."

I simply have no words to express how much I loved this amazing and historically recorded book. Walter Isaacson! Sir, you have such a diverse taste in science, arts and literature.

The books narrates in a story-like manner, the journey from DNA to RNA and from RNA to CRISPR. Science has never ceased to a
Clif Hostetler
Jul 21, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
This book pretends to be a biography, but actually it's about gene editing. About twenty percent of the book is about Jennifer Doudna, forty percent is history of gene editing up to the present, and forty percent is speculation about the future of gene editing. (view spoiler)

The discovery, analysis, and eventual understanding of the mechanism of CRISPR involves a whole host of characters each buildin
'"We decant our babies as socialized human beings, as Alphas or Epsilons, as future sewage workers or future..." He was going to say "future World controllers," but correcting himself, said "future Directors of Hatcheries."' - Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (as quoted in The Code Breaker)

It's been fourteen long, isolating months since my family and I have been in the perpetual Groundhog Day that is Coronavirus lockdown. We haven't hugged our families, there have been no birthday parties in the
Anita Pomerantz
Jan 26, 2022 rated it it was amazing
I'm giving this five stars because a) Isaacson maintained my interest throughout on a pretty complex and confusing topic and b) the research and c) so timely. My level of interest and enjoyment was more around a 3 1/2 star, but that had nothing to do with the quality of the book.

I will say that I'm not 100% clearly picturing how gene editing works despite the lengthy explanations. But I definitely understood the results. Isaacson leaves no aspect of this story unearthed. He describes the way res
Tanja Berg
May 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
Absolutely fascinating biography of a great scientist in a field that has made tremendous progress in recent years - much thanks to Jennifer Doudna. I am ashamed to say that I didn’t even know she had won the Nobel Prize for her discoveries in biochemistry and gene editing.

The other surprise is how devastatingly current the book is, covering some issues of the COVID-19 epidemic. The pandemic has resulted in less competition and more cooperation between scientists, so that’s at least something.
Nilesh Jasani
Apr 07, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: new-sciences
The Code Breaker is an incomplete story of science and scientists who are in the throes of creating a fast-unfolding revolution. The book is equivalent of, perhaps, someone writing on Einstein in 1910 - a few years after his first papers on the quanta and special relativity, but way before tens of other more significant discoveries they led to.

CRISPR and gene editing are barely getting started. Most of us will spend countless hours in coming years and decades following this science's developmen
This is an incredible read. This book elucidates and elaborates a quite esoteric field, gene editing, that's on the cusp of being transformative for the human race. It explains the foundational science in a way that's immensely readable for the layman, and dramatizes in a pulse-racing way the intense rivalries and collaborations that occurred in academic biology and the enterprise of biotechnology in the heady race to establish claims on being the first to discovery or invention, and stake out p ...more
Camelia Rose
Oct 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race is a book about the discovery of CRISPR system and invention of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool and scientists who made the discovery.

The first half of the book is the journey of CRISPR. There are two groups of scientists, one centered around Jennifer Doudna, a UC Berkeley biochemist and her French collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, another centered around Feng Zhang and Eric Lander at Broad Institute of MIT and H
Mal Warwick
Mar 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
If you have received either the Moderna or the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19, you benefiting from a biomedical tool called CRISPR. CRISPR technology enabled scientists to create both vaccines in record time, bypassing the clumsy and time-consuming methods employed in vaccine development in the past. The historic breakthrough that led to the now-widespread use of CRISPR in biomedical labs the world over came only in 2012. And it won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry eight years later for a ...more
Sep 01, 2022 rated it really liked it
I read this because I was told it spills all the biologist tea of the last 10 years and it DOES

The title suggests this is a biography of Jennifer Doudna, but it actually has a wide scope encompassing the major players who were in the race to find how to edit our own genomes.

The facts of who was researching what and publishing when is discussed with a great matter of dramatics, and Isaacson does not falter in talking about the tea at the time. He even interviews scientists and presses them to re
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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 Isaacson.Tulane.edu and on T ...more

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