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Covers of "Code Breaker" and "CRISPR People" side by side

Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci: Giants in their fields and times, these men also have the distinction of having received full biographical treatment from Walter Isaacson, America’s most prolific recorder of lives of creative genius. Jennifer Doudna is the first woman to join Isaacson’s centuries-spanning pantheon, and though she does not quite rate a banner with her own name on top, she is the anchoring presence of his latest book, The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, a sprawling account of scientific sleuthing, discovery, and competition for stardom.

In Isaacson’s previous work, it was the outsize personalities of his male protagonists that bestowed timeless standing on their work; Steve Jobs, who was famous for his ability to distort the reality of others, is the most iconic instance. But Isaacson presents Doudna more as a case of the work having made the woman, as the title The Code Breaker implies. Much of Isaacson’s storytelling is devoted to developing the breathtaking claim that Doudna’s “code breaking,” which centered... see more