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The Code Breaker book cover

This book is not for the faint of mind. Walter Isaacson is a great storyteller who has devoted his justly acclaimed career as a biographer to such history-changing individuals as Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Henry Kissinger, and Leonardo da Vinci. Now, in his new book The Code-Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, he tries to do the same with Jennifer Doudna, the engaging and brilliant University of California, Berkeley scientist who shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry with her French collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier for discovering the inner workings of gene editing. Supported by a cast of eager and intensely competitive scientists who spanned the globe from Spain to China, Doudna and Charpentier figured out how to not only make human gene editing relatively simple but also turn it into what is, simultaneously, a hope-giving and terrifying technology.

As is typical for his work, Isaacson has done prodigious research—even learning to gene-edit himself. But perhaps his biggest challenge was that it may be easier to explain the achievements of da Vinci or even... see more