Reviews for The Code Breaker

by Walter Isaacson

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Biographer Isaacson (Leonardo da Vinci) depicts science at its most exhilarating in this lively biography of Jennifer Doudna, the winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry for her work on the CRISPR system of gene editing. Born in 1964, Doudna grew up in Hawaii, where she felt isolated and, “like many others who have felt like an outsider, she developed a wide-ranging curiosity about how we humans fit into creation.” Praising her sharp mix of curiosity and competitiveness, Isaacson tracks her role in the race to develop CRISPR technology (which can easily and precisely cut human DNA sequences to change genes), explores the promises of the technique (such as potential cures for sickle cell anemia and cancer) and describes fears that it might herald a world of genetically engineered “designer babies.” Isaacson offers an impassioned take on CRISPR—“I look into the microscope and see them glowing green!” he remarks, peering at a culture of gene-edited cells—along with vivid portraits of the scientists Doudna worked with, including the “guarded but engaging” Emmanuelle Charpentier, with whom she won the Nobel Prize. The result is a gripping account of a great scientific advancement and of the dedicated scientists who realized it. Photos. Agent: Binky Urban, ICM Partners. (Mar.)


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A magisterial biography of the co-discoverer of what has been called the greatest advance in biology since the discovery of DNA. For the first third of Isaacson’s latest winner, the author focuses on the life and career of Jennifer Doudna (b. 1964). Raised by academic parents who encouraged her fascination with science, she flourished in college and went on to earn a doctorate in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology from Harvard. After fellowships and postdoc programs at the University of Colorado and Yale, she joined the faculty at the University of California in 2002. In 2006, she learned about CRISPR, a system of identical repeated DNA sequences in bacteria copied from certain viruses. Others had discovered that this was a defense mechanism—CRISPR DNA generates enzymes that chop up the DNA of the infecting virus. With collaborators, she discovered how CRISPR operates and invented a much simpler technique for cutting DNA and editing genes. Although known since the 1970s, “genetic engineering” was a complex, tedious process. CRISPR made it much simpler. Formally accepted by the editors of Science in 2012, the co-authored paper galvanized the scientific establishment and led to a torrent of awards, culminating in the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry. At this point, Isaacson steps back, keeping Doudna as the central character but describing the rush to apply gene editing to altering life and curing diseases, the intense debate over its morality, and the often shameful quarrels over credit and patents. A diligent historian and researcher, Isaacson lucidly explains CRISPR and refuses to pass it off as a far-fetched magic show. Some scientific concepts (nuclear fission, evolution) are easy to grasp but not CRISPR. Using charts, analogies, and repeated warnings for readers to pay attention, the author describes a massively complicated operation in which humans can program heredity. 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. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A magisterial biography of the co-discoverer of what has been called the greatest advance in biology since the discovery of DNA. For the first third of Isaacsons latest winner, the author focuses on the life and career of Jennifer Doudna (b. 1964). Raised by academic parents who encouraged her fascination with science, she flourished in college and went on to earn a doctorate in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology from Harvard. After fellowships and postdoc programs at the University of Colorado and Yale, she joined the faculty at the University of California in 2002. In 2006, she learned about CRISPR, a system of identical repeated DNA sequences in bacteria copied from certain viruses. Others had discovered that this was a defense mechanismCRISPR DNA generates enzymes that chop up the DNA of the infecting virus. With collaborators, she discovered how CRISPR operates and invented a much simpler technique for cutting DNA and editing genes. Although known since the 1970s, genetic engineering was a complex, tedious process. CRISPR made it much simpler. Formally accepted by the editors of Science in 2012, the co-authored paper galvanized the scientific establishment and led to a torrent of awards, culminating in the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry. At this point, Isaacson steps back, keeping Doudna as the central character but describing the rush to apply gene editing to altering life and curing diseases, the intense debate over its morality, and the often shameful quarrels over credit and patents. A diligent historian and researcher, Isaacson lucidly explains CRISPR and refuses to pass it off as a far-fetched magic show. Some scientific concepts (nuclear fission, evolution) are easy to grasp but not CRISPR. Using charts, analogies, and repeated warnings for readers to pay attention, the author describes a massively complicated operation in which humans can program heredity. 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 scienceand yet another top-notch biography from Isaacson. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Former Aspen CEO and best-selling author Isaacson (Steve Jobs) revisits the work of Berkeley biochemist Jennifer Doudna and her collaborators, who devised a simple tool called CRISPR that can edit DNA and thus regularly saves lives. Good news: It's been used in the fight against the coronavirus. With a 500,000-copy first printing.

Back