The Code Breaker - Walter Isaacson

The Code Breaker

By Walter Isaacson

  • Release Date: 2021-03-09
  • Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Score: 4.5
From 447 Ratings


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.


  • Too long

    By grey scientist
    Interesting, but I wish it had been edited to a shorter length. Did not need so much about ethics. I had to edit as I read to complete this book. Liked Einstein more.
  • Fabulous

    By Go otter
    Revitalized my biotech interests and inspired me with the spectacular response of the scientific community:)
  • This is how to build a biography

    By equiboy.
    This is a great story about the people who are leading the scientific quest for a better future. The more we learn the better we are able to handle our future challenges. The author makes the search of the people whom he writes about a very engaging story that captivates and enhances our experience of getting to know about who they are.
  • Great read!

    By PB206
    Well done. Impressive research. Very enlightening and thought provoking.
  • A slog

    By wkhsdca
    This book seems more like a research paper about the entire history of gene editing than a book about Jennifer Doudna. It gets too bogged down in what seems like a complete review of every conference, every paper and every person related to this technology. Are there any scientists who AREN'T working on gene editing? Then it spends a painful amount of time on the ethics of this tech. I feel like I just switched to a philosophy book for the last hour. I understand this is a very important aspect to consider going forward, but I don't need to be beaten over the head and it just goes on and on. Ugh. I get it. There are huge implications. There are pros and cons, but it gets repetitive and tedious. I loved his book about Steve Jobs. I couldn't put it down. There was a nice balance of history, tech, personalities involved, personal struggles. I was hoping for something like that here, but I find I am struggling to find the energy and interest to even finish it after getting 3/4 of the way through. I think it could have used some serious, heavy editing. There is too much dry, disjointed, tedious detail. It sometimes reads like a daily journal. "Today, this conference happened and these people attended. The next week in the lab, this test was done. On January 3rd I got a call from a scientist that wants to work on this aspect." Enough!
  • id=1526283447

    By 1526283447
    I’m not gonna make it for work but I’m still working
  • E I iuu

    By uuuhuhhuuuuuh
  • Would have been a 5

    By Contradiction 1954
    But the author had to through Trump under the bus. Does he really believes nothing would have been accomplished without his leadership through a World Wide Pandemic!
  • Our CRISPR future

    By non-fiction reader
    Nobody does a better job than Walter Isaacson of presenting science, technology and the personalities of the people he writes about. This book excels in all these attributes, bringing us the latest in CRISPR biotechnology and the people involved. Gene editing will be our future.
  • Uplifting

    By carocross
    Although I had difficulty understanding much of the science, Walter Isaacson tried to explain. Not his fault I’m not that smart. But thank goodness there are many who are. This is a dynamic, exciting, very interesting book. The future ahead.