Coming in at nearly 500 pages, the book dives into the essence of life and the heady world of genomes and genetic coding, or what Isaacson calls 'the third great revolution of modern times,' following the atom, and the bit which led to the digital revolution. For the uninitiated — those folks who cannot tell their DNAs from RNAs — understanding this new frontier in science can be a bit daunting ... Isaacson leans heavily on profiles to tell the broader story. In this case, he focuses on Doudna (pronounced DOWD-nuh) to explore the confluence of science, innovation, and ethics ... Isaacson passionately charts Doudna's swiftly rising star ... But Isaacson also pays tribute to the many others who, in their own way, contributed to the understanding and development of gene editing, by weaving in compelling vignettes along with glossy photos of scientists and researchers. It's a broad cast of characters, and at times the choice seems a bit random. But, ultimately, it helps create an understanding that these breakthroughs are not created in a bubble, it requires a patchwork of experiments and expertise over many years.
In The Code Breaker [Isaacson] reprises several of his previous themes—science, genius, experiment, code, thinking different—and devotes a full length book to a female subject for the first time. Jennifer Doudna, a genuine heroine for our time, may be the code breaker of the book’s title, but she is only part of Isaacson’s story ... Isaacson devotes much anguished discussion to the ethics of gene editing, especially when it comes to 'germline' changes that can be passed on through generations and 'enhancements' such as green eyes or high I.Q. that prospective parents could insert into their offspring’s genomes ... This is a good place to start the story, because The Code Breaker is in some respects a journal of our 2020 plague year. By the final chapter, Isaacson has enrolled in a vaccine trial. Between the main character’s frantic road trip and the author’s rolled-up sleeve, there is room to explore Doudna’s childhood, trace her career, meet her competitors and collaborators, fret over the future fallout of the CRISPR revolution and marvel at its positive potential ... a handsome volume with color photos distributed generously throughout. While the pictures enhance the storytelling, the narrative flow is constantly interrupted by subheads and space breaks. Almost every spread includes one, as though admonishing the reader to pay attention ... Isaacson keeps a firm, experienced hand on the scientific explanations, which he mastered through extensive readings and interviews, all of which are footnoted.
Author Walter Isaacson is one of the nation's premier biographers ... he's demonstrated an uncanny ability to do exhaustive research, organize it all and present it lucidly, separating wheat from chaff ... He puts all those talents to good use in discussing the monumental achievements of Jennifer Doudna ... It is Isaacson's genius that he explains this complicated process—and how Doudna reached it starting from ground zero—in clear, concise, layperson's terms. But he doesn't stop there. Isaacson also discusses a host of unresolved moral and ethical issues that Doudna's scientific work has raised.
... marvelous ... hefty but inspiring ... With his dynamic and formidable style, Isaacson explains the long scientific journey that led to this tool’s discovery and the exciting developments that have followed ... Like Lab Girl on steroids, The Code Breaker paints a detailed picture of how scientists work ... The timing of Isaacson’s book could hardly be better ... For readers seeking to understand the many twists, turns and nuances of the biotechnology revolution, there’s no better place to turn than The Code Breaker.
... enthralling and panoramic ... an impressively balanced account of the ethical debates and tussles over credit that proves both nuanced and persuasive ... offers a primer on the inner workings of contemporary global research ... in addition to providing a navigable history of genetic technology, offers a compelling introduction to the complex moral and sociological questions that stem from these advances ... makes eloquent and succinct work of laying out the parameters of the debate between advocates of individual liberties and of collective welfare, introducing readers to the ideas of philosophers John Rawls, Robert Nozick, and Michael Sandel. As in his past volumes, Isaacson displays his gift for making complex material enjoyable to read ... while unvarnished and occasionally critical, never drifts into the cynicism of Arrowsmith or The Education of Henry Adams. Rather, Isaacson invites readers on a riveting expedition through biochemistry, structural biology, and academic politics that transcends the traditional scientific detective story and captures the raw, magical enthusiasm of living pioneers like Doudna and her colleagues. Isaacson’s tale proves as inspiring as The Double Helix, only far more balanced, a compelling introduction to a complex field that does for the human genome what Carl Sagan once did for the cosmos In a world beset by scientific illiteracy and misinformation, Isaacson is the gene whisperer we so desperately need.
Mr. Isaacson explains CRISPR in terms readers can understand and its role in eliminating diseases ... He also asks probing questions about the moral implications of the life sciences revolution ... The Code Breaker is an indispensable guide to the brave – and scary – new world we have entered ... The Code Breaker is at its best when Mr. Isaacson conducts thought experiments to assess the moral implications of gene editing.
Whether it’s arcane biochemistry or the ins and outs of patents, 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 ... The book’s only real flaw can be seen in the title...Isaacson focused on one main character here, Doudna. It’s an understandable choice. Readers need a human face to attach to the science, and Doudna, who, along with Charpentier, recently won the Nobel Prize for CRISPR, is the most glamorous character in the field. Isaacson isn’t afraid to show her sharp edges, either: She’s deeply competitive and fiercely jealous about credit for her work, so much so that her relationship with Charpentier cooled significantly. Still, much like the Nobel Prize does, focusing on Doudna skews our perceptions. Science nowadays is highly collaborative ... I wish Isaacson had created more of a mosaic, one similar to his history of the early computer industry—The Innovators, properly plural.
The Crispr story is made for the movies. It features a nail-biting race, more than its fair share of renegades, the highest prize in chemistry, a gigantic battle over patents, designer babies and acres of ethical quicksand. It presents a challenge to a biographer, however, who has to pick one character from a cast of many to carry that story ... Focusing on Doudna also paints the Crispr story as more American than it was ... Isaacson remains a consummate portraitist...He understands the tensions that drive discovery and how flawed brilliant people can be. This story was always guaranteed to be a page-turner in his hands. It’s just that science has outgrown biography as a medium. His subject should have been Crispr, not Doudna.
Writing gracefully and with authority, Isaacson frames Doudna’s life story with that of James Watson, who used model-building and photographs to propose the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953 ... In his enthusiastic embrace of science—communicated dramatically by the inclusion of two photos of the author in a white lab coat—Isaacson portrays himself as a member of the scientific tribe and no longer as an impartial observer ... Although I do not endorse the book’s science-centric view of human values, I highly recommend The Code Breaker to anyone interested in an insider’s view of the politics of high-stakes academic research.
... strange, hybrid ... I was expecting this to be a biography of Doudna. It is, in part, but it is also a history of DNA and CRISPR research, a story about women in science, a digression on the significance of yoghurt, a long moral essay and an account that feels interminable of laboratory politics ... One problem for Isaacson must have been that Doudna is neither as famous nor as charismatic as his previous subjects. She is not a narcissist or an eccentric. Also, many other people were involved in the crucial discoveries. Yet the real problem is that readers cannot be assumed to know anything about CRISPR and gene editing, whereas they would have known a good deal about the work of Jobs and Einstein. The real-world impact of this discovery just hasn’t happened yet ... This is a hard book to read. It is poorly organised and much space is wasted on lab politics. But nobody knows this stuff and these people, and explains them, quite like Isaacson. If you need to know about CRISPR — and you do — this is the place to start.
[Isaacson] profiles the brainy, good-natured, competitive and thoughtful Doudna, who became fascinated with biological science as a girl. At the same time, he defines and explains the complicated science behind the gene-editing tool CRISPR ... As riveting as the science is behind gene editing, so too, in Isaacson’s narrative, is the competition in advancing it ... Isaacson spends many pages posing important and often unanswerable questions, especially as they pertain to modifying and enhancing the genetic makeup of humans ... In these days when paying attention to science is vital, Isaacson gives us an important and stimulating new book.
Prerequisites almost are required – biology 101 and chemistry 101 would be helpful in grasping the roles of introns and cryocooling crystals, as examples ... a hefty reading-time investment with big doses of science. A tough read at times with textbook-like digressions into the supporting science ... Isaacson conveys all this though with unflagging enthusiasm, as if he can barely restrain himself from turning into a scientist himself.
By taking a holistic look at what got Doudna, and one of her friends and co-researchers, onto the virtual stage for the 2020 Nobel Prize ceremony, Isaacson uncovers and demystifies the stigma around high level thinking and biologic research in The Code Breaker ... In an elegant approach, this biography contains not one story, but two connected and parallel storylines evolving beside one another: the life and work of Jennifer Doudna at UC Berkeley, and the emergence and popularization of CRISPR ... It is these little stories — one or two chapters a piece, giving credit where credit is due and shedding light on the foggy procedure of institutional research — where Isaacson's expertise as a biographer shines through ... Walter Isaacson, with his decades of celebrated experience, documented Doudna’s life and work beautifully. By taking the time to walk through her lab, get hands-on experience, and interview hundreds of scientists that have contributed to the field of gene editing, Isaacson and his work as a biographer stands apart.
A magisterial biography of the co-discoverer of what has been called the greatest advance in biology since the discovery of DNA ... 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.
Biographer Isaacson 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 ... The result is a gripping account of a great scientific advancement and of the dedicated scientists who realized it.