The Code Breaker

By Walter Isaacson,

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

Book description

The best-selling author of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs returns.

In 2012, Nobel Prize winning scientist Jennifer Doudna hit upon 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 medical…

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Why read it?

10 authors picked The Code Breaker as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I have seldom read a book with as much zeal as The Code Breaker, written by the famous biographer and historian, Walter Isaacson, whom I’d met on the CRISPR conference circuit.

Isaacson focuses on Doudna’s life and science, but also introduces the reader to a large cast of characters, including Doudna’s former colleague and fellow Nobelist, Emmanuelle Charpentier. He even has a crack at running a CRISPR experiment himself.

The success of this book has likely done more than anything to educate the public on the transformative promise of CRISPR.

From Kevin's list on CRISPR and genome editing.

The Code Breaker tells the amazing story of the development of the famous gene editing technology called CRISPR and the woman who co-created it.

I was drawn to Jennifer Doudna’s story because of her incredible journey of scientific discovery, but also because of her desire to grapple with the huge societal implications of her work. In engineering the genetic code, how do we impact humanity’s moral code?

Doudna’s story truly shows the need for scientists to consider the social impact of their work. She leads by example.

As a longtime science and medical writer for The Boston Globe, I was in awe of Isaacson’s grasp of the complex science and the intricate people stories involved in the thrilling race to develop the gene editing technique, CRISPR. (My first novel was inspired in part by Isaacson’s brilliant book.)

Believe me, it takes an enormous amount of time, smarts, and dedication to probe, as a layperson, the most intricate secrets of science and to explain it all to non-scientists. Isaacson did this spectacularly well.

The history of medicine is a fluid, living discipline that is changing as rapidly as contemporary science.

In this century, the advent of CRISPR/Cas-9 gene editing, discovered by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, is a game changer that has galvanized the field of gene therapy and is already producing cures that save lives today. Isaacson’s origin story of this thrilling discovery is as gripping as it is relevant to current medicine.

I particularly loved reading about Doudna’s upbringing in Hawaii as I have very fond memories of doing part of my medical training in Honolulu.

From Andrew's list on the history of medicine.

When is a thriller not fiction? When the gene-editing procedures of CRISPR are discoverers and shared with the world.

This biography of one of the discoveries of CRISPR is non-fiction but has the same page-turning, stay-up all-night focus of the best thriller out there. CRISPR babies—whose DNA is edited in vitro, the ethics of single-cell organism experiments to applications on eukaryotic cells. This biography has it all.

Released as the SARs-COv2 pandemic rages around the world, hints of how CRISPR can lend humanitarian aid. But what is the dark side of this simple, easily obtained, inexpensive methodology?

Few biographies represent subjects who are still alive. And most often the subject is the main character. However, in Code Breaker, the main character is not limited to Jennifer Doudna. The structural biologist from the University of California, Berkeley. It is also about a team of people all contributing to the discovery of CRISPR. Modern science takes a team and this is true here as well. Isaacson wrote this marvel during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the new science was used to battle this worldwide threat.

The book also highlights how science is built on a foundation of others’ discoveries,…

The Code Breaker is the latest masterwork by the master book builder, Walter Isaacson. Isaacson’s books are long and rich with detail, but every detail is fascinating and necessary for understanding the main characters: what they do, and why they do it. I’ve read Isaacson’s books on Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs. This book is about Jennifer Doudna (pronounced “Dowd-nuh”), a biotech scientist. In collaboration with a French scientist, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Doudna discovered a way (called “CRISPR”) to edit DNA, the so-called “code of life,” and they jointly won the Nobel Prize. If you are at all interested in science…

You may not know Jennifer Doudna’s name, but you’ve probably heard about her shared discovery, CRISPR. This gene-editing process won Doudna a Pulitzer Prize and is poised to help end a host of genetically-defined diseases. Doudna’s discovery wasn’t a solo act, but she pushed the door wide open for rapid-fire correction of many genetic conditions and for the creation of rapid Covid testing. As the parent of a child with a genetically-transferred disease, I count the moment I heard about CRISPR as one of those stand-still moments. CRISPR may or may not be able to change my child’s condition, but…

From Amy's list on biographies of bold women.

The most recent book on this list, Walter Isaacson’s biography of biochemist Jennifer Doudna hits the big issues animating discussions around genetics today: our emerging ability to edit the human genome, the hopeful yet frightening potential for gene therapy and human enhancement, and the implications of COVID-19 and future pandemics on humanity. Isaacson illuminates these social and scientific issues through the lens of Doudna’s life, which also highlights the (very unsatisfactory) way that science has dealt with gender. Isaacson describes the young Doudna’s enchantment with Watson’s The Double Helix, despite its overt sexism, and how it inspired her to…

From Jorge's list on genetics for the general reader.

Acclaimed biographer Walter Isaacson's book Code Breaker, profiles biochemist Jennifer Doudna and her innovative contributions to the development of CRISPR technology that has revolutionized genetic engineering. Doudna shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Emmanuelle Charpentier. Isaacson documents her life and work and well as exploring the potential and perils of gene editing. Isaacson vividly balances scientific explanations of how CRISPR works with coverage of debates regarding its morality. His book exposes the elbows-out world of conflicting egos and disputed patents within the high stakes biotech world.

From K.'s list on biotechnology.

Want books like The Code Breaker?

Our community of 10,000+ authors has personally recommended 58 books like The Code Breaker.

Browse books like The Code Breaker

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in genes, genetic engineering, and genetics?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about genes, genetic engineering, and genetics.

Genes Explore 23 books about genes
Genetic Engineering Explore 51 books about genetic engineering
Genetics Explore 42 books about genetics