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.