The popular Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human high quality Race outlet online sale

The popular Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human high quality Race outlet online sale

The popular Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human high quality Race outlet online sale

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The bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs returns with a gripping account of how Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues launched a revolution that will allow us to cure diseases, fend off viruses, and have healthier babies.

When Jennifer Doudna was in sixth grade, she came home one day to find that her dad had left a paperback titled The Double Helix on her bed. She put it aside, thinking it was one of those detective tales she loved. When she read it on a rainy Saturday, she discovered she was right, in a way. As she sped through the pages, she became enthralled by the intense drama behind the competition to discover the code of life. Even though her high school counselor told her girls didn’t become scientists, she decided she would.

Driven by a passion to understand how nature works and to turn discoveries into inventions, she would help to make what the book’s author, James Watson, told her was the most important biological advance since his co-discovery of the structure of DNA. She and her collaborators turned a curiosity ​of nature into an invention that will transform the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions.

The development of CRISPR and the race to create vaccines for coronavirus will hasten our transition to the next great innovation revolution. The past half-century has been a digital age, based on the microchip, computer, and internet. Now we are entering a life-science revolution. Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code.

Should we use our new evolution-hacking powers to make us less susceptible to viruses? What a wonderful boon that would be! And what about preventing depression? Hmmm…Should we allow parents, if they can afford it, to enhance the height or muscles or IQ of their kids?

After helping to discover CRISPR, Doudna became a leader in wrestling with these moral issues and, with her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the Nobel Prize in 2020. Her story is a thrilling detective tale that involves the most profound wonders of nature, from the origins of life to the future of our species.

Amazon.com Review

Isaacson is famous for writing Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci, so a title like The Code Breaker might imply a lesser book about a lesser character. But 2020 Nobel winner Jennifer Doudna, who developed the gene editing technology CRISPR, is a giant in her own right. CRISPR could open some of the greatest opportunities, and most troubling quandaries, of this century—and this book delivers. —Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review

Review

“This year’s prize is about rewriting the code of life. These genetic scissors have taken the life sciences into a new epoch.”  – Announcement of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

"Isaacson’s vivid account is a page-turning detective story and an indelible portrait of a revolutionary thinker who, as an adolescent in Hawai’i, was told that girls don’t do science. Nevertheless, she persisted."  — Oprah Magazine.com

" The Code Breaker marks the confluence of perfect writer, perfect subject and perfect timing. The result is almost certainly the most important book of the year.”  Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Isaacson captures the scientific process well, including the role of chance. The hard graft at the bench, the flashes of inspiration, the importance of conferences as cauldrons of creativity, the rivalry, sometimes friendly, sometimes less so, and the sense of common purpose are all conveyed in his narrative.  The Code Breaker describes a dance to the music of time with these things as its steps, which began with Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel and shows no sign of ending.”  – The Economist

“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 Washington Post

"This story was always guaranteed to be a page-turner in [Isaacson''s] hands." – The Guardian

" The Code Breaker unfolds as an enthralling detective story, crackling with ambition and feuds, laboratories and conferences, Nobel laureates and self-taught mavericks. The book probes our common humanity without ever dumbing down the science, a testament to Isaacson’s own genius on the page." — O Magazine

 “Deftly written, conveying the history of CRISPR and also probing larger themes: the nature of discovery, the development of biotech, and the fine balance between competition and collaboration that drives many scientists.” — New York Review of Books

The Code Breaker is in some respects a journal of our 2020 plague year.” The New York Times

"Walter Isaacson is our Renaissance biographer, a writer of unusual range and depth who has plumbed lives of genius to illuminate fundamental truths about human nature. From  Leonardo to  Steve Jobs, from  Benjamin Franklin to  Albert Einstein, Isaacson has given us an unparalleled canon of work that chronicles how we have come to live the way we do. Now, in a magnificent, compelling, and wholly original book, he turns his attention to the next frontier: that of gene editing and the role science may play in reshaping the nature of life itself. This is an urgent, sober, accessible, and altogether brilliant achievement."  —Jon Meacham

"When a great biographer combines his own fascination with science and a superb narrative style, the result is magic. This important and powerful work, written in the tradition of  The Double Helix, allows us not only to follow the story of a brilliant and inspired scientist as she engages in a fierce competitive race, but to experience for ourselves the wonders of nature and the joys of discovery."  —Doris Kearns Goodwin

“He’s done it again. The Code Breaker is another Walter Isaacson must-read. This time he has a heroine who will be for the ages; a worldwide cast of remarkable, fiercely competitive scientists; and a string of discoveries that will change our lives far more than the iPhone did. The tale is gripping. The implications mind-blowing.” – Atul Gawande

"An extraordinary book that delves into one of the most path-breaking biological technologies of our times and the creators who helped birth it. This brilliant book is absolutely necessary reading for our era."   — Siddhartha Mukherjee

“Now more than ever we should appreciate the beauty of nature and the importance of scientific research; This book and Jennifer Doudna’s career show how thrilling it can be to understand how life works.”  —Sue Desmond-Hellmann

“An extraordinarily detailed and revealing account of scientific progress and competition that grants readers behind-the-scenes access to the scientific process, which the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us remains opaque to the wider public. It also provides lessons in science communication that go beyond the story itself.” – Science Magazine

“An indispensable guide to the brave… new world we have entered." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"A vital book about the next big thing in science—and yet another top-notch biography from Isaacson." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"In Isaacson''s splendid saga of how big science really operates, curiosity and creativity, discovery and innovation, obsession and strong personalities, competitiveness and collaboration, and the beauty of nature all stand out. " — Booklist (starred review)

"Isaacson depicts science at its most exhilarating in this lively biography of Jennifer Doudna, the winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in medicine 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." — Publisher''s Weekly (starred review)

"Isaacson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of best sellers  Leonardo da Vinci and  Steve Jobs, offers a startling, insightful look at this lifesaving, hugely significant scientific advancement and the brilliant Doudna, who wrestles with the serious moral questions that accompany her creation. Should this technology be offered to parents to tailor-make their babies into athletes or Einsteins? Who gets altered and saved and why?” AARP

"A brilliant and engaging book. There are many quotable gems but I have chosen one sentence from the epilogue that epitomizes not only Doudna but also Isaacson himself, whose book title ends with a hortatory claim that CRISPR affects the future of the human race: ''To guide us, we will need not only scientists, but humanists. And most important, we will need people who feel comfortable in both words, like Jennifer Doudna.''" Policy Magazine

"Mr. Isaacson is a great storyteller and a national treasure — like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and of course his latest subject, Jennifer Doudna.”  The East Hampton Star

"The journalist who told the life stories of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs is back with a timely biography of Jennifer Doudna, PhD, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry. It’s a fast-paced account of her life as a pathbreaking scientist on CRISPR — and how gene editing could alter all life as we know it." Medium

"This challenging, fascinating story examines Doudna''s background and excavates the moral quandaries she grapples with as her creation opens up more and more avenues for scientific advancement." Elle

"It is a gripping tale, showing how our new ability to hack evolution will soon start throwing us curveballs." New Scientist

“[A] fascinating story... [Isaacson’s] unique skill as a master storyteller of scientific development over the centuries has educated not only his fellow Baby Boomers, but also succeeding generations, helping people of all ages and backgrounds travel down the long and winding road toward understanding how life works.”  – Washington Independent Review of Books

"[A] marvelous biography... 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....Isaacson is truly an immersive tour guide, combining the energy of a TED Talk with the intimacy of a series of fireside chats....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." – BookPage

“ Isaacson expertly plumbs the moral ambiguity surrounding this new technology. ” Scientific American

"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. ”  – New York Journal of Books

“Isaacson senses a more collaborative spirit between the rivals that will surely pay dividends come the next pandemic ... The Code Breaker is a true celebration of science and scientists, for all their flaws and jealousies.”  – Nature Reviews Chemistry

About the Author

Walter Isaacson, a professor of history at Tulane, has been CEO of the Aspen Institute, chair of CNN, and editor of  Time. He is the author of  Leonardo da VinciThe Innovators;  Steve JobsEinstein: His Life and UniverseBenjamin Franklin: An American Life; and  Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of  The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. Visit him at Isaacson.Tulane.edu.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Introduction
Into the Breach
 
Jennifer Doudna couldn’t sleep. Berkeley, the university where she was a superstar for her role in inventing the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR, had just shut down its campus because of the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic. Against her better judgment, she had driven her son, Andy, a high school senior, to the train station so he could go to Fresno for a robot-building competition. Now, at 2 a.m., she roused her husband and insisted that they retrieve him before the start of the match, when more than twelve hundred kids would be gathering in an indoor convention center. They pulled on
their clothes, got in the car, found an open gas station, and made the three-hour drive. Andy, an only child, was not happy to see them, but they convinced him to pack up and come home. As they pulled out of the parking lot, Andy got a text from the team: “Robotics match cancelled! All kids to leave immediately!”
 
This was the moment, Doudna recalls, that she realized her world, and the world of science, had changed. The government was fumbling its response to COVID, so it was time for professors and graduate students, clutching their test tubes and raising their pipettes high, to rush into the breach. The next day—Friday, March 13, 2020—she led a meeting of her Berkeley colleagues and other scientists in the Bay Area to discuss what roles they might play.
 
A dozen of them made their way across the abandoned Berkeley campus and converged on the sleek stone-and-glass building that housed her lab. The chairs in the ground-floor conference room were clustered together, so the first thing they did was move them six feet apart. Then they turned on a video system so that fifty other researchers from nearby universities could join by Zoom. As she stood in front of the room to rally them, Doudna displayed an intensity that she usually kept masked by a calm façade. “This is not something that academics typically do,” she told them. “We need to step up.”2
 
 
It was fitting that a virus-fighting team would be led by a CRISPR pioneer. The gene-editing tool that Doudna and others developed in 2012 is based on a virus-fighting trick used by bacteria, which have been battling viruses for more than a billion years. In their DNA, bacteria develop clustered repeated sequences, known as CRISPRs, that can remember and then destroy viruses that attack them. In other words, it’s an immune system that can adapt itself to fight each new wave of viruses—just what we humans need in an era that has been plagued, as if we were still in the Middle Ages, by repeated viral epidemics.
 
Always prepared and methodical, Doudna (pronounced DOWDnuh) presented slides that suggested ways they might take on the coronavirus. She led by listening. Although she had become a science celebrity, people felt comfortable engaging with her. She had mastered the art of being tightly scheduled while still finding the time to connect with people emotionally.
 
The first team that Doudna assembled was given the job of creating a coronavirus testing lab. One of the leaders she tapped was a postdoc named Jennifer Hamilton who, a few months earlier, had spent a day teaching me to use CRISPR to edit human genes. I was pleased, but also a bit unnerved, to see how easy it was. Even I could do it!
 
Another team was given the mission of developing new types of coronavirus tests based on CRISPR. It helped that Doudna liked commercial enterprises. Three years earlier, she and two of her graduate students had started a company to use CRISPR as a tool for detecting viral diseases.
 
In launching an effort to find new tests to detect the coronavirus, Doudna was opening another front in her fierce but fruitful struggle with a cross-country competitor. Feng Zhang, a charming young China-born and Iowa-raised researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, had been her rival in the 2012 race to turn CRISPR into a gene-editing tool, and ever since then they had been locked in an intense competition to make scientific discoveries and form CRISPRbased companies. Now, with the outbreak of the pandemic, they would engage in another race, this one spurred not by the pursuit of patents but by a desire to do good.
 
Doudna settled on ten projects. She suggested leaders for each and told the others to sort themselves into the teams. They should pair up with someone who would perform the same functions, so that there could be a battlefield promotion system: if any of them were struck by the virus, there would be someone to step in and continue their work. It was the last time they would meet in person. From then on the teams would collaborate by Zoom and Slack.
 
“I’d like everyone to get started soon,” she said. “Really soon.”
 
“Don’t worry,” one of the participants assured her. “Nobody’s got any travel plans.”
 
 
What none of the participants discussed was a longer-range prospect: using CRISPR to engineer inheritable edits in humans that would make our children, and all of our descendants, less vulnerable to virus infections. These genetic improvements could permanently alter the human race.
 
“That’s in the realm of science fiction,” Doudna said dismissively when I raised the topic after the meeting. Yes, I agreed, it’s a bit like Brave New World or Gattaca. But as with any good science fiction, elements have already come true. In November 2018, a young Chinese scientist who had been to some of Doudna’s gene-editing conferences used CRISPR to edit embryos and remove a gene that produces a receptor for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It led to the birth of twin girls, the world’s first “designer babies.”
 
There was an immediate outburst of awe and then shock. Arms flailed, committees convened. After more than three billion years of evolution of life on this planet, one species (us) had developed the talent and temerity to grab control of its own genetic future. There was a sense that we had crossed the threshold into a whole new age, perhaps a brave new world, like when Adam and Eve bit into the apple or Prometheus snatched fire from the gods.
 
Our newfound ability to make edits to our genes raises some fascinating questions. Should we edit our species to make us less susceptible to deadly viruses? What a wonderful boon that would be! Right? Should we use gene editing to eliminate dreaded disorders, such as Huntington’s, sickle-cell anemia, and cystic fibrosis? That sounds good, too. And what about deafness or blindness? Or being short? Or depressed? Hmmm . . . How should we think about that? A few decades from now, if it becomes possible and safe, should we allow parents to enhance the IQ and muscles of their kids? Should we let
them decide eye color? Skin color? Height?
 
Whoa! Let’s pause for a moment before we slide all of the way down this slippery slope. What might that do to the diversity of our societies? If we are no longer subject to a random natural lottery when it comes to our endowments, will it weaken our feelings of empathy and acceptance? If these offerings at the genetic supermarket aren’t free (and they won’t be), will that greatly increase inequality—and indeed encode it permanently in the human race? Given these issues, should such decisions be left solely to individuals, or should society as a whole have some say? Perhaps we should develop some rules.
 
By “we” I mean we. All of us, including you and me. Figuring out if and when to edit our genes will be one of the most consequential questions of the twenty-first century, so I thought it would be useful to understand how it’s done. Likewise, recurring waves of virus epidemics make it important to understand the life sciences. There’s a joy that springs from fathoming how something works, especially when that something is ourselves. Doudna relished that joy, and so can we. That’s what this book is about.
 
 
The invention of CRISPR and the plague of COVID will hasten our transition to the third great revolution of modern times. These revolutions arose from the discovery, beginning just over a century ago, of the three fundamental kernels of our existence: the atom, the bit, and the gene.
 
The first half of the twentieth century, beginning with Albert Einstein’s 1905 papers on relativity and quantum theory, featured a revolution driven by physics. In the five decades following his miracle year, his theories led to atom bombs and nuclear power, transistors and spaceships, lasers and radar.
 
The second half of the twentieth century was an information-technology era, based on the idea that all information could be encoded by binary digits—known as bits—and all logical processes could be performed by circuits with on-off switches. In the 1950s, this led to the development of the microchip, the computer, and the internet. When these three innovations were combined, the digital revolution was born.
 
Now we have entered a third and even more momentous era, a life-science revolution. Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code.
 
When Doudna was a graduate student in the 1990s, other biologists were racing to map the genes that are coded by our DNA. But she became more interested in DNA’s less-celebrated sibling, RNA. It’s the molecule that actually does the work in a cell by copying some of the instructions coded by the DNA and using them to build proteins. Her quest to understand RNA led her to that most fundamental question: How did life begin? She studied RNA molecules that could replicate themselves, which raised the possibility that in the stew of chemicals on this planet four billion years ago they started to reproduce
even before DNA came into being.
 
As a biochemist at Berkeley studying the molecules of life, she focused on figuring out their structure. If you’re a detective, the most basic clues in a biological whodunit come from discovering how a molecule’s twists and folds determine the way it interacts with other molecules. In Doudna’s case, that meant studying the structure of RNA. It was an echo of the work Rosalind Franklin had done with DNA, which was used by James Watson and Francis Crick to discover the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953. As it happens, Watson, a complex figure, would weave in and out of Doudna’s life.
 
Doudna’s expertise in RNA led to a call from a biologist at Berkeley who was studying the CRISPR system that bacteria developed in their battle against viruses. Like a lot of basic science discoveries, it turned out to have practical applications. Some were rather ordinary, such as protecting the bacteria in yogurt cultures. But in 2012 Doudna and others figured out a more earth-shattering use: how to turn CRISPR into a tool to edit genes.
 
CRISPR is now being used to treat sickle-cell anemia, cancers, and blindness. And in 2020, Doudna and her teams began exploring how CRISPR could detect and destroy the coronavirus. “CRISPR evolved in bacteria because of their long-running war against viruses,” Doudna says. “We humans don’t have time to wait for our own cells to evolve natural resistance to this virus, so we have to use our ingenuity to do that. Isn’t it fitting that one of the tools is this ancient bacterial immune system called CRISPR? Nature is beautiful that way.” Ah, yes. Remember that phrase: Nature is beautiful. That’s another theme of this book.
 
 
There are other star players in the field of gene editing. Most of them deserve to be the focus of biographies or perhaps even movies. (The elevator pitch: A Beautiful Mind meets Jurassic Park.) They play important roles in this book, because I want to show that science is a team sport. But I also want to show the impact that a persistent, sharply inquisitive, stubborn, and edgily competitive player can have. With a smile that sometimes (but not always) masks the wariness in her eyes, Jennifer Doudna turned out to be a great central character. She has the instincts to be collaborative, as any scientist must, but ingrained in her character is a competitive streak, which most great innovators have. With her emotions usually carefully controlled, she wears her star status lightly.
 
Her life story—as a researcher, Nobel Prize winner, and public policy thinker—connects the CRISPR tale to some larger historical threads, including the role of women in science. Her work also illustrates, as Leonardo da Vinci’s did, that the key to innovation is connecting a curiosity about basic science to the practical work of devising tools that can be applied to our lives—moving discoveries from lab bench to bedside.
 
By telling her story, I hope to give an up-close look at how science works. What actually happens in a lab? To what extent do discoveries depend on individual genius, and to what extent has teamwork become more critical? Has the competition for prizes and patents undermined collaboration?
 
Most of all, I want to convey the importance of basic science, meaning quests that are curiosity-driven rather than application-oriented. Curiosity-driven research into the wonders of nature plants the seeds, sometimes in unpredictable ways, for later innovations.3 Research about surface-state physics eventually led to the transistor and microchip. Likewise, studies of an astonishing method that bacteria use to fight off viruses eventually led to a gene-editing tool and techniques that humans can use in their own struggle against viruses.
 
It is a story filled with the biggest of questions, from the origins of life to the future of the human race. And it begins with a sixth-grade girl who loved searching for “sleeping grass” and other fascinating phenomena amid the lava rocks of Hawaii, coming home from school one day and finding on her bed a detective tale about the people who discovered what they proclaimed to be, with only a little exaggeration, “the secret of life.”
 

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Top reviews from the United States

linda galella
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
This is NOT your typical biography!
Reviewed in the United States on March 9, 2021
Jennifer Doudna and her French colleague, Emmanuel Carpentier, won the 2020 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. They won for their work in CRISPR technology, Gene Editing, and ultimately for Coronavirus testing & vaccines. Walter Isaacson includes mini bios for many of... See more
Jennifer Doudna and her French colleague, Emmanuel Carpentier, won the 2020 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. They won for their work in CRISPR technology, Gene Editing, and ultimately for Coronavirus testing & vaccines.

Walter Isaacson includes mini bios for many of the scientists included in Doudna’s story and there are quite a few. At first, I was frustrated by all the incremental information - get on with it, already! As his worked progressed, peeling the onion of her life’s story, I see the value of understanding the motivation for these scientists; not all are created equally. Many of the details of Doudna’s life are glossed over so don’t expect a Hollywood style biography. Details are given as they relate to people and events of science, her personal life is not.

Doudna is an interesting woman due to the fact that she is really quite “normal” in her brilliance for bio chemistry. I was struck by her genuine affection for her co-workers that’s evidenced in the included photos as well as some of the lengths she went to helping her competition. She states that money is not her motivation but “publish or perish” is ingrained in most academics and even that seems to be under developed in Jennifer. THAT will become an issue...

Parts of this formidable volume read like a thriller. There’s intrigue, court battles, and friends with misunderstandings. Part Seven consists of 5 chapters that discuss the issues of ethics as relates to DNA and changing the structure of life, ordering the structure of life. Who has the right? Who controls the rights? Is it right at all? These are supremely serious questions that should be considered be every adult.

It would be helpful to have some science background when reading this book, but it’s not impossible without it. There are excellent footnotes to assist and if you get the Kindle version, they are interactive, which makes look ups SO much easier! Otherwise, this is definitely a worthy read. It’s very well written, challenging and up to the minute with information on the science of biochemistry and gene editing. The ethical issues should have people talking for a good, long time. The medical manifestations should have people living a healthy, long time. God Bless Us, Everyone📚
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Wei Zhao
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Didn''t Cover Enough of the Latest Development in CRISPR Gene-editing Field
Reviewed in the United States on March 9, 2021
This book makes the same mistake as many others by implying that CRISPR-Cas9 is all that is needed for gene-editing. In reality, CRISPR-Cas9 by itself can only accomplish half of the task, which is finding the exact location in the genome very specifically and efficiently.... See more
This book makes the same mistake as many others by implying that CRISPR-Cas9 is all that is needed for gene-editing. In reality, CRISPR-Cas9 by itself can only accomplish half of the task, which is finding the exact location in the genome very specifically and efficiently. To be clear, this is indeed a huge discovery, and Jennifer and Emmanuel''s groudbreaking work is well deserved to win the Noble Prize.
However, once finding the correct location for editing, all Cas9 can do by itself is cutting the DNA double helix at this location. Nevertheless, cutting alone usually disrupts the target gene by a mechanism called nonhomologous end joining. Human does possess another DNA repair pathway called HDR, which can fix the gene if a DNA template is nearby. Unfortunately, the latter one only works in the dividing cells and its editing efficiency is often miserably low, especially when editing in vivo.
For all the above reasons, CRISPR-Cas9 needs to pair with other editing modules to complete the other half of the job, the actual editing, to fully unlock its potential. This is where the base editor or prime editor comes into the scene. Invented by Harvard Chemist David Liu and his postdocs, both base editor and prime editor can offer much higher "editing" efficiency than HDR. And both editors are widely adopted and hailed by the gene-editing labs across the globe since their debut in 2016 and 2019 respectively.
As such, it is a major disappointment for this book that Walter Isaacson failed to dedicate at least one complete chapter to highlight base/prime editor and have an interview with David Liu to discuss his transformational work.
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Aran Joseph CanesTop Contributor: Philosophy
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Not a Work of Genius
Reviewed in the United States on March 11, 2021
Most of Walter Isaacson’s biographies are not only about geniuses they have a whiff of genius themselves. The reader is made to palpably feel the qualities that made these personalities so distinctive—from Steve Jobs’ power to warp reality to Leonardo Da Vinci’s... See more
Most of Walter Isaacson’s biographies are not only about geniuses they have a whiff of genius themselves. The reader is made to palpably feel the qualities that made these personalities so distinctive—from Steve Jobs’ power to warp reality to Leonardo Da Vinci’s unquenchable curiosity.

It’s not that Isaacson makes grievous errors. In fact, everything in the Code Breaker is right. The explanation of the science behind Crispr is right, the biographical sketch of Jennifer Doudna seemed right, the culture of academia is captured right, he even broaches the ethical questions raised by Doudna’s work right. And yet, none of this goes beyond what you can gain from a typical extended article in National Geographic.

If Walter Isaacson were not the author, if this was simply a much needed biography of a very important scientist, it would be correctly regarded as a success. But given that Walter Isaacson is one of America’s premier biographers and Dr. Doudna one of America’s leading scientists, I was disappointed that Isaacson wrote for such a low common denominator of readership. On the other hand, if you’re looking for an easy to read book on this subject, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Not a bad book but Isaacson’s devoted readers, of whom I count myself one, are going to be disappointed.
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David Brathwaite
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I now have a negative impression of Jennifer Doudna
Reviewed in the United States on March 11, 2021
I had an entirely positive impression of Jennifer Doudna as an exceptional scientist whose work changed the world. Now, I also know that she was a schemer and manipulator who maneuvered and connived to secure all or most of the credit and economic rewards for herself, and... See more
I had an entirely positive impression of Jennifer Doudna as an exceptional scientist whose work changed the world. Now, I also know that she was a schemer and manipulator who maneuvered and connived to secure all or most of the credit and economic rewards for herself, and deprive her colleagues and collaborators of their rightful share of the spoils.

The author does his best to present the story in another light but he tries too hard, and the effort comes across as a public relations project commissioned by Ms. Doudna.

I am at the same time both glad and sorry that I read the book. I am still in awe of the science, but the backstabbing among the scientists is sickening.
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jerry rekowski
5.0 out of 5 stars
Geno Sequence
Reviewed in the United States on March 10, 2021
Crisper, Edit, NTLA, stock symbols, are the future of mankind, in the very near future you will be able to see your Dr. and ask to have your body go through Geno Sequences and fix what ever it is that is wrong with you, Cancer, kidney disease, heart problems, it takes out... See more
Crisper, Edit, NTLA, stock symbols, are the future of mankind, in the very near future you will be able to see your Dr. and ask to have your body go through Geno Sequences and fix what ever it is that is wrong with you, Cancer, kidney disease, heart problems, it takes out the disease, in the future you will live till your 120, if you don`t have your health your life is over, it`s coming sooner than you think, just like the electric car, or when the internet, cell phones, came out now you cant live without it. I am buying this book to keep a sharp eye on the future of Geno Editing.
87 people found this helpful
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Pseudo D
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
what a piece of work...
Reviewed in the United States on March 13, 2021
Walter Isaacson is an historian and pundit who likes to focus on geniuses such as Leonardo da Vinci, Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs. He now takes on Jennifer Doudna, who won the Nobel Prize in biology with her sometime friend Emmanuelle Chartier.... See more
Walter Isaacson is an historian and pundit who likes to focus on geniuses such as Leonardo da Vinci, Ben
Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs. He now takes on Jennifer Doudna, who won the Nobel Prize
in biology with her sometime friend Emmanuelle Chartier. Their work was on CRISPR, and eventually
has allowed editing or making changes to the human genetic code. Doudna has focused on RNA, which
has been underrated compared to its more famous cousin DNA. CRISPR uses methods that bacteria
have used to fight viruses. Isaacson notes with his wit that we humans are just getting what the
bacteria knew billions of years ago. This is obviously relevant to the current COVID-19 crisis, and
Isaacson frames the subject and protagonist with that point of reference.

He begins with Doudna''s inspiration from her parents and others and her great curiosity, a trait in
common with Leonardo and others that he''s written about. She took inspiration from James Watson''s
Double Helix, like many of her generation. Watson turned out to be a complex human being, and her
generation struggled with his personal traits. Isaacson discusses the difficulties of female scientists.
I''m sympathetic to this, because my finest mentors in this subject were Doc Lisa in high school and
Dr. Becky in college. Rosemary was a partner with Watson and Crick for DNA. They describe a toxic
sexual environment. But there are a lot of dynamics going on, look at the TV show Big Bang Theory.

A metanarrative for Isaacson is competition and collaboration. What motivates scientists, and what
makes science work? What gives it application in our everyday lives, as the information technology
revolution has in my lifetime? Are scientists motivated by money, or fame, or power and influence,
or what? Doudna loved being in the field and doing research. But there comes a time where the
athlete becomes a coach, and she was a good one, with great skills in putting together a team.
The disputes over patents for CRISPR were primarily with Feng Zhang, who was a protege of Dr.
Eric and set up an east coast circle around MIT and Harvard to compete with Doudna''s group at
Berkeley. At first he is a sympathetic character, but then is cutthroat, especially from Doudna''s
point of view, and in the end is more complex. A third figure is George Church, who is more laid
back and has a beard. Isaacson''s take is that they are fiercely competitive and are pushing the
boundaries, but each can point to another using the same cutthroat tactics, for instance rushing
to get an article published before the Ukrainians. Think of Bill Belichick, or Billy Martin with the
George Brett pine tar incident. They''re in that grey area around the outer limits of the rules of the
game.

Isaacson discusses "hackers" which have moved from information technology to biotechnology.
Recently, a rogue Chinese scientist used CRISPR to prevent twins from receiving the gene for
HIV. He was surprised at the backlash from both the West and his own government, and seemed
genuinely naive. Doudna and others were shocked, because it was not medically necessary. They
are hesitant to call for a "moratorium," but want to slow down the activity.

Isaacson is looking at the ethical debates, which are part of a metaphysical debate on philosophical
anthropology. Who is man? Why? When are you playing God? Is that bad? The hacker kid who injected
himself to grow muscles, and old Watson himself, say that playing God is good and necessary, and are
way out beyond of the mainstream of the field. Are they ahead, or are they leading to a slippery slope?
Isaacson discusses the issue of diversity, different qualities and abilities such as intelligence, athletic
ability, artistic and musical talent, being able to build and make things, fix things, etc. These are genetic
as well as environmental, both nature and nurture. So why wouldn''t parents want to help their kids
be better? What do we mean by better? Isaacson always realizes that the slippery slope is beginning
when they say "blond hair, blue eyes".

He points out a number of ethical thinkers who have cautioned against tampering with human genetics,
such as Paul Ramsey and Leon Kass. George W. Bush appointed Kass along with Charles Krauthammer,
Mary Ann Glendon, Francis Fukuyama and others. Several were neocons and/or Leo Straussians, who
were not always helpful to Bush in foreign policy, but extremely thoughtful on bioethics, as Isaacson
acknowledges.

We are well on the way to a Brave New World. Isaacson doesn''t give answers but he sure asks the big questions.
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Joseph Sciuto
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A MUST READ
Reviewed in the United States on March 13, 2021
Walter Isaacson has the unique gift of taking a difficult subject such a gene editing, or Einstein''s theories, or DA Vinci''s genius, and breaking these subjects and individuals down so that the common person, such as myself, can truly understand the meaning and works of so... See more
Walter Isaacson has the unique gift of taking a difficult subject such a gene editing, or Einstein''s theories, or DA Vinci''s genius, and breaking these subjects and individuals down so that the common person, such as myself, can truly understand the meaning and works of so many ground breaking, ingenious men and women.

Before I die, I always said I wanted to understand Einstein''s theories and after reading Mr. Isaacson''s book on Einstein I never imagined it would be so easy. So, when I picked up his latest work of genius, "The Code Breaker, Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race," I had no doubt that he would be able to combine gene editing, biological structuring, chemistry, medicine, DNA, and history into one easily understood book, and he did. What I did not expect was that I would be able to read a book that dealt with such complex science and fascinating scientists in one day. This is a very important book, and it is already on my list of the most important books I have ever read.

The book follows the life of Jennifer Doudna, a scientist and researcher, and an army of researchers from around the world as they race toward the editing of DNA that will eventually enable us to cure diseases like sickle cell anemia, cancers, HIV, and was the decisive factor in the life saving vaccines for Covid 19.

With the development of CHISPR, the editing of RNA that is released from our DNA to fight and kill viruses such as Covid 19, Ms. Doudna and a team of scientist have in essence reinvented The Code Of Life. The editing of our DNA can actually start before a fertilized egg is implanted in a woman. If the woman''s family has a history of heart disease the gene that causes the disease can be edited out ensuing the child is not born with the condition, the same with diabetes, sickle-cell, and certain cancers and debilitating diseases. It can also edit the genes that could make a person taller, muscular, and more intelligent. Yes, there are many ethical questions which are fully discussed, but the life saving potential and the lessening of suffering that this research offers is miraculous.

This book is a must read. If nothing else, it will inform you about the vaccines that will enable the world to get back to some resemblance of normal. It will also remind all of us who the true heroes, who usually go unrecognized, really are.
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Trey Shipp
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
3 Reasons this book is as compelling as Watson''s "The Double Helix"
Reviewed in the United States on March 12, 2021
• We see in this riveting story the hard work, ambition, and intense competition of a life in science. • The life-altering potential of CRISPR illustrates the power of curiosity. • You will share it with your teenager for inspiration. (And 2 reasons it... See more
• We see in this riveting story the hard work, ambition, and intense competition of a life in science.
• The life-altering potential of CRISPR illustrates the power of curiosity.
• You will share it with your teenager for inspiration.

(And 2 reasons it is BETTER)
• Isaacson compares the traits he sees in Jennifer Doudna with those of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Leonardo da Vinci.
• No sexist put-downs of Rosalind Franklin!
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Top reviews from other countries

Hande Z
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
All cut up
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 24, 2021
There are several books on CRISPR and genetic engineering published in 2020 and 2021. It is almost as if the writers were racing against each other the way the scientists from Berkeley (Doudna & Co) and Zhang (MIT/Harvard) raced against each other, first in determining how...See more
There are several books on CRISPR and genetic engineering published in 2020 and 2021. It is almost as if the writers were racing against each other the way the scientists from Berkeley (Doudna & Co) and Zhang (MIT/Harvard) raced against each other, first in determining how to use CRISPR to edit the human gene, and later, in the race to file the patent for the procedure. This book is 481 pages long but is an easy and exhilarating book written by an experienced hand. Issacson, however, openly declares that he tells the story primarily from Jennifer Doudna’s point of view. He has done his best to be an impartial reporter and recorder of the story, yet it is obvious, and perhaps unavoidable, that some characters are cast in poorer light against Doudna, who Issacson shines the light of sainthood upon. Before the race to discover how CRISPR might be used on human genes, they first have to discover CRISPR – the acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. As it appears, scientific discoveries are made a step at a time, almost always by different scientists. The Japanese Yoshizumi Ishino was the first to discover the repeat structures in a bacteria. It was Francisco Mojica who realised what these do, and it was he who came up with the name CRSPR. Then came Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier. In brief, they discovered how bacteria defend themselves against their old enemy, the virus. The bacteria cut up some of the DNA from the virus and then implant them on themselves so that they can identify the invading virus when they attacked again. The story continues to the crucial race to discover how exactly the bacteria cut up the virus DNA. That was main work of Doudna and Charpentier. They discovered the process through the RNA and how the TRACR RNA helps identity then guide the bacteria’s protein enzyme to the target. All that is exciting, yet the book’s attraction lies in many other aspects. We see how fame and money (the scientists get millions of dollars from prizes) change or perhaps reveal the dark side of even the seemingly nicest of people. We see how quiet, unassuming, dedicated scientists turn to ego-sensitive, prize-grabbing people. We may also question the way the patent system works. Reading between the lines of this book (remember, Isaacsson is a little beholden to Doudna for the backbone of his story) we might get a slightly different take. Ethical issues involve not only the big question as to whether we should allow genetic editing in humans, but also the subsidiary question, of when we are ready for it. Thus enters the Chinese scientist He Jiankui who used CRISPR to edit the genes of a pair of twins so that they are genetically resistant to the HIV virus. Yet He Jiankui created an uproar in the West, and the worldwide outrage led to him being found guilty of conducting experiments without official approval and was sentenced to three years jail. He rushed ahead before the all-clear signal. But now, with the COVID pandemic, scientists are open to using gene editing as an answer. Furthermore, even Doudna is working on other diseases that can be cured. They include the sickle cell disease, Alzheimer’s, and also cancer. There are also problems that the present system has not yet addressed – gene-editing as a medical magic wand seems destined to be available only for the rich. We also learn from this book that the US military, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) was so very much interested in gene technology in the last six years or so that it invested US$65m into research involving CRISPR and genetic engineering specifically for military purposes. Doudna is in one of the seven teams involved with DARPA funded research. The moral and ethical issues are enough to keep one thinking long after the last page is turned. One big question is how different are the modern-day eugenics different from the eugenics of the early 20th century?
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Dr Mike
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Gripping account
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 17, 2021
I''d bought the author''s biography of Steve Jobs but have never managed to get through it. THIS book took me just two days to read and held my attention through every page; falls into convenient quarters if the reader needs to break the reading up. Excellent account of what...See more
I''d bought the author''s biography of Steve Jobs but have never managed to get through it. THIS book took me just two days to read and held my attention through every page; falls into convenient quarters if the reader needs to break the reading up. Excellent account of what drives a Nobel winner. Excellent account of a development that may become important in what is left of my lifetime.
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Anantha Narayan
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Helps understand biogenetics but drags in parts
Reviewed in India on April 11, 2021
The Code Breaker traces the history of gene editing while simultaneously tracking Jennifer Doudna’s life — she has received a Nobel prize for being a pioneer of the CRISPR technology (an immune system that bacteria adapt whenever they get attacked by a new virus). There is...See more
The Code Breaker traces the history of gene editing while simultaneously tracking Jennifer Doudna’s life — she has received a Nobel prize for being a pioneer of the CRISPR technology (an immune system that bacteria adapt whenever they get attacked by a new virus). There is a key difference between this book and Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. I did not learn anything new from the latter as I was aware of most of the key events in the life of Jobs and in the history of Apple; however the insights that he provided into Jobs’ personality and the behind-the-scenes happenings at Apple made it an extremely interesting read. The Code Breaker, on the other hand, was extremely informative given my limited knowledge of gene editing; however, in its quest for being informative, the book ends up being somewhat tedious. Doudna has led an extremely laudable professional life. However, her personal life has been largely commonplace, and while Isaacson tries his hardest to create a sense of excitement around it, he fails to do so. He focuses all his efforts on this front in the third part of the book — Gene Editing — where he chronicles the intense rivalry between Feng Zhang and Doudna, tracing their race to get credit, important prizes and patents. But this attempt falls short. The most interesting part of the book for me was the section where Isaacson explores the moral or ethical issues around gene-editing. This is best exemplified by the question, “would it be wrong to do so or would it be wrong not to do so”. Isaacson discusses where boundary lines should be drawn — somatic editing versus germline editing (the latter is hereditary), the use for treatment of diseases versus for enhancement of human characteristics, the types of diseases that should be edited out, disadvantages that are disabling versus those that are simply so because of societal constructs (such as homosexuality) and finally whether the individual or the community should control this. From this part onwards, the book is less about Doudna and more about the science. The book ends on an optimistic note, while discussing the Covid-19 disease and the race to find a vaccine, on how reprogrammable RNA vaccines could pave a way for finding faster cures to diseases and pandemics in the future. Pros: Helps understand the science of biogenetics, interesting debate on the ethical aspects Cons: Drags in parts
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fc
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Broad yet detailed
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 9, 2021
I throughly enjoyed reading this book, the narrative carries u along the discovery of CRISPER and its massive impact on science and society. There r loads of names n lots of scientific terms yet the major figures and terminology r constantly referenced so we can still...See more
I throughly enjoyed reading this book, the narrative carries u along the discovery of CRISPER and its massive impact on science and society. There r loads of names n lots of scientific terms yet the major figures and terminology r constantly referenced so we can still follow the threads of the narrative. At times the time spent on the ethical arguments seem a bit too protracted and repetitive, but that is merely nitpicking to find fault. An excellent book for readers who lack a science background.
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Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fascinating for a non-scientists
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 18, 2021
For a liberal arts major The Code Breaker became a page turner. I feel so much more in touch with the science and the scientists. This should be a must for every girl who thinks about science for a course of study.
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Description

Product Description

The bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs returns with a gripping account of how Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues launched a revolution that will allow us to cure diseases, fend off viruses, and have healthier babies.

When Jennifer Doudna was in sixth grade, she came home one day to find that her dad had left a paperback titled The Double Helix on her bed. She put it aside, thinking it was one of those detective tales she loved. When she read it on a rainy Saturday, she discovered she was right, in a way. As she sped through the pages, she became enthralled by the intense drama behind the competition to discover the code of life. Even though her high school counselor told her girls didn’t become scientists, she decided she would.

Driven by a passion to understand how nature works and to turn discoveries into inventions, she would help to make what the book’s author, James Watson, told her was the most important biological advance since his co-discovery of the structure of DNA. She and her collaborators turned a curiosity ​of nature into an invention that will transform the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions.

The development of CRISPR and the race to create vaccines for coronavirus will hasten our transition to the next great innovation revolution. The past half-century has been a digital age, based on the microchip, computer, and internet. Now we are entering a life-science revolution. Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code.

Should we use our new evolution-hacking powers to make us less susceptible to viruses? What a wonderful boon that would be! And what about preventing depression? Hmmm…Should we allow parents, if they can afford it, to enhance the height or muscles or IQ of their kids?

After helping to discover CRISPR, Doudna became a leader in wrestling with these moral issues and, with her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the Nobel Prize in 2020. Her story is a thrilling detective tale that involves the most profound wonders of nature, from the origins of life to the future of our species.

Amazon.com Review

Isaacson is famous for writing Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci, so a title like The Code Breaker might imply a lesser book about a lesser character. But 2020 Nobel winner Jennifer Doudna, who developed the gene editing technology CRISPR, is a giant in her own right. CRISPR could open some of the greatest opportunities, and most troubling quandaries, of this century—and this book delivers. —Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review

Review

“This year’s prize is about rewriting the code of life. These genetic scissors have taken the life sciences into a new epoch.”  – Announcement of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

"Isaacson’s vivid account is a page-turning detective story and an indelible portrait of a revolutionary thinker who, as an adolescent in Hawai’i, was told that girls don’t do science. Nevertheless, she persisted."  — Oprah Magazine.com

" The Code Breaker marks the confluence of perfect writer, perfect subject and perfect timing. The result is almost certainly the most important book of the year.”  Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Isaacson captures the scientific process well, including the role of chance. The hard graft at the bench, the flashes of inspiration, the importance of conferences as cauldrons of creativity, the rivalry, sometimes friendly, sometimes less so, and the sense of common purpose are all conveyed in his narrative.  The Code Breaker describes a dance to the music of time with these things as its steps, which began with Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel and shows no sign of ending.”  – The Economist

“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 Washington Post

"This story was always guaranteed to be a page-turner in [Isaacson''s] hands." – The Guardian

" The Code Breaker unfolds as an enthralling detective story, crackling with ambition and feuds, laboratories and conferences, Nobel laureates and self-taught mavericks. The book probes our common humanity without ever dumbing down the science, a testament to Isaacson’s own genius on the page." — O Magazine

 “Deftly written, conveying the history of CRISPR and also probing larger themes: the nature of discovery, the development of biotech, and the fine balance between competition and collaboration that drives many scientists.” — New York Review of Books

The Code Breaker is in some respects a journal of our 2020 plague year.” The New York Times

"Walter Isaacson is our Renaissance biographer, a writer of unusual range and depth who has plumbed lives of genius to illuminate fundamental truths about human nature. From  Leonardo to  Steve Jobs, from  Benjamin Franklin to  Albert Einstein, Isaacson has given us an unparalleled canon of work that chronicles how we have come to live the way we do. Now, in a magnificent, compelling, and wholly original book, he turns his attention to the next frontier: that of gene editing and the role science may play in reshaping the nature of life itself. This is an urgent, sober, accessible, and altogether brilliant achievement."  —Jon Meacham

"When a great biographer combines his own fascination with science and a superb narrative style, the result is magic. This important and powerful work, written in the tradition of  The Double Helix, allows us not only to follow the story of a brilliant and inspired scientist as she engages in a fierce competitive race, but to experience for ourselves the wonders of nature and the joys of discovery."  —Doris Kearns Goodwin

“He’s done it again. The Code Breaker is another Walter Isaacson must-read. This time he has a heroine who will be for the ages; a worldwide cast of remarkable, fiercely competitive scientists; and a string of discoveries that will change our lives far more than the iPhone did. The tale is gripping. The implications mind-blowing.” – Atul Gawande

"An extraordinary book that delves into one of the most path-breaking biological technologies of our times and the creators who helped birth it. This brilliant book is absolutely necessary reading for our era."   — Siddhartha Mukherjee

“Now more than ever we should appreciate the beauty of nature and the importance of scientific research; This book and Jennifer Doudna’s career show how thrilling it can be to understand how life works.”  —Sue Desmond-Hellmann

“An extraordinarily detailed and revealing account of scientific progress and competition that grants readers behind-the-scenes access to the scientific process, which the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us remains opaque to the wider public. It also provides lessons in science communication that go beyond the story itself.” – Science Magazine

“An indispensable guide to the brave… new world we have entered." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"A vital book about the next big thing in science—and yet another top-notch biography from Isaacson." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"In Isaacson''s splendid saga of how big science really operates, curiosity and creativity, discovery and innovation, obsession and strong personalities, competitiveness and collaboration, and the beauty of nature all stand out. " — Booklist (starred review)

"Isaacson depicts science at its most exhilarating in this lively biography of Jennifer Doudna, the winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in medicine 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." — Publisher''s Weekly (starred review)

"Isaacson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of best sellers  Leonardo da Vinci and  Steve Jobs, offers a startling, insightful look at this lifesaving, hugely significant scientific advancement and the brilliant Doudna, who wrestles with the serious moral questions that accompany her creation. Should this technology be offered to parents to tailor-make their babies into athletes or Einsteins? Who gets altered and saved and why?” AARP

"A brilliant and engaging book. There are many quotable gems but I have chosen one sentence from the epilogue that epitomizes not only Doudna but also Isaacson himself, whose book title ends with a hortatory claim that CRISPR affects the future of the human race: ''To guide us, we will need not only scientists, but humanists. And most important, we will need people who feel comfortable in both words, like Jennifer Doudna.''" Policy Magazine

"Mr. Isaacson is a great storyteller and a national treasure — like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and of course his latest subject, Jennifer Doudna.”  The East Hampton Star

"The journalist who told the life stories of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs is back with a timely biography of Jennifer Doudna, PhD, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry. It’s a fast-paced account of her life as a pathbreaking scientist on CRISPR — and how gene editing could alter all life as we know it." Medium

"This challenging, fascinating story examines Doudna''s background and excavates the moral quandaries she grapples with as her creation opens up more and more avenues for scientific advancement." Elle

"It is a gripping tale, showing how our new ability to hack evolution will soon start throwing us curveballs." New Scientist

“[A] fascinating story... [Isaacson’s] unique skill as a master storyteller of scientific development over the centuries has educated not only his fellow Baby Boomers, but also succeeding generations, helping people of all ages and backgrounds travel down the long and winding road toward understanding how life works.”  – Washington Independent Review of Books

"[A] marvelous biography... 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....Isaacson is truly an immersive tour guide, combining the energy of a TED Talk with the intimacy of a series of fireside chats....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." – BookPage

“ Isaacson expertly plumbs the moral ambiguity surrounding this new technology. ” Scientific American

"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. ”  – New York Journal of Books

“Isaacson senses a more collaborative spirit between the rivals that will surely pay dividends come the next pandemic ... The Code Breaker is a true celebration of science and scientists, for all their flaws and jealousies.”  – Nature Reviews Chemistry

About the Author

Walter Isaacson, a professor of history at Tulane, has been CEO of the Aspen Institute, chair of CNN, and editor of  Time. He is the author of  Leonardo da VinciThe Innovators;  Steve JobsEinstein: His Life and UniverseBenjamin Franklin: An American Life; and  Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of  The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. Visit him at Isaacson.Tulane.edu.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Introduction
Into the Breach
 
Jennifer Doudna couldn’t sleep. Berkeley, the university where she was a superstar for her role in inventing the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR, had just shut down its campus because of the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic. Against her better judgment, she had driven her son, Andy, a high school senior, to the train station so he could go to Fresno for a robot-building competition. Now, at 2 a.m., she roused her husband and insisted that they retrieve him before the start of the match, when more than twelve hundred kids would be gathering in an indoor convention center. They pulled on
their clothes, got in the car, found an open gas station, and made the three-hour drive. Andy, an only child, was not happy to see them, but they convinced him to pack up and come home. As they pulled out of the parking lot, Andy got a text from the team: “Robotics match cancelled! All kids to leave immediately!”
 
This was the moment, Doudna recalls, that she realized her world, and the world of science, had changed. The government was fumbling its response to COVID, so it was time for professors and graduate students, clutching their test tubes and raising their pipettes high, to rush into the breach. The next day—Friday, March 13, 2020—she led a meeting of her Berkeley colleagues and other scientists in the Bay Area to discuss what roles they might play.
 
A dozen of them made their way across the abandoned Berkeley campus and converged on the sleek stone-and-glass building that housed her lab. The chairs in the ground-floor conference room were clustered together, so the first thing they did was move them six feet apart. Then they turned on a video system so that fifty other researchers from nearby universities could join by Zoom. As she stood in front of the room to rally them, Doudna displayed an intensity that she usually kept masked by a calm façade. “This is not something that academics typically do,” she told them. “We need to step up.”2
 
 
It was fitting that a virus-fighting team would be led by a CRISPR pioneer. The gene-editing tool that Doudna and others developed in 2012 is based on a virus-fighting trick used by bacteria, which have been battling viruses for more than a billion years. In their DNA, bacteria develop clustered repeated sequences, known as CRISPRs, that can remember and then destroy viruses that attack them. In other words, it’s an immune system that can adapt itself to fight each new wave of viruses—just what we humans need in an era that has been plagued, as if we were still in the Middle Ages, by repeated viral epidemics.
 
Always prepared and methodical, Doudna (pronounced DOWDnuh) presented slides that suggested ways they might take on the coronavirus. She led by listening. Although she had become a science celebrity, people felt comfortable engaging with her. She had mastered the art of being tightly scheduled while still finding the time to connect with people emotionally.
 
The first team that Doudna assembled was given the job of creating a coronavirus testing lab. One of the leaders she tapped was a postdoc named Jennifer Hamilton who, a few months earlier, had spent a day teaching me to use CRISPR to edit human genes. I was pleased, but also a bit unnerved, to see how easy it was. Even I could do it!
 
Another team was given the mission of developing new types of coronavirus tests based on CRISPR. It helped that Doudna liked commercial enterprises. Three years earlier, she and two of her graduate students had started a company to use CRISPR as a tool for detecting viral diseases.
 
In launching an effort to find new tests to detect the coronavirus, Doudna was opening another front in her fierce but fruitful struggle with a cross-country competitor. Feng Zhang, a charming young China-born and Iowa-raised researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, had been her rival in the 2012 race to turn CRISPR into a gene-editing tool, and ever since then they had been locked in an intense competition to make scientific discoveries and form CRISPRbased companies. Now, with the outbreak of the pandemic, they would engage in another race, this one spurred not by the pursuit of patents but by a desire to do good.
 
Doudna settled on ten projects. She suggested leaders for each and told the others to sort themselves into the teams. They should pair up with someone who would perform the same functions, so that there could be a battlefield promotion system: if any of them were struck by the virus, there would be someone to step in and continue their work. It was the last time they would meet in person. From then on the teams would collaborate by Zoom and Slack.
 
“I’d like everyone to get started soon,” she said. “Really soon.”
 
“Don’t worry,” one of the participants assured her. “Nobody’s got any travel plans.”
 
 
What none of the participants discussed was a longer-range prospect: using CRISPR to engineer inheritable edits in humans that would make our children, and all of our descendants, less vulnerable to virus infections. These genetic improvements could permanently alter the human race.
 
“That’s in the realm of science fiction,” Doudna said dismissively when I raised the topic after the meeting. Yes, I agreed, it’s a bit like Brave New World or Gattaca. But as with any good science fiction, elements have already come true. In November 2018, a young Chinese scientist who had been to some of Doudna’s gene-editing conferences used CRISPR to edit embryos and remove a gene that produces a receptor for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It led to the birth of twin girls, the world’s first “designer babies.”
 
There was an immediate outburst of awe and then shock. Arms flailed, committees convened. After more than three billion years of evolution of life on this planet, one species (us) had developed the talent and temerity to grab control of its own genetic future. There was a sense that we had crossed the threshold into a whole new age, perhaps a brave new world, like when Adam and Eve bit into the apple or Prometheus snatched fire from the gods.
 
Our newfound ability to make edits to our genes raises some fascinating questions. Should we edit our species to make us less susceptible to deadly viruses? What a wonderful boon that would be! Right? Should we use gene editing to eliminate dreaded disorders, such as Huntington’s, sickle-cell anemia, and cystic fibrosis? That sounds good, too. And what about deafness or blindness? Or being short? Or depressed? Hmmm . . . How should we think about that? A few decades from now, if it becomes possible and safe, should we allow parents to enhance the IQ and muscles of their kids? Should we let
them decide eye color? Skin color? Height?
 
Whoa! Let’s pause for a moment before we slide all of the way down this slippery slope. What might that do to the diversity of our societies? If we are no longer subject to a random natural lottery when it comes to our endowments, will it weaken our feelings of empathy and acceptance? If these offerings at the genetic supermarket aren’t free (and they won’t be), will that greatly increase inequality—and indeed encode it permanently in the human race? Given these issues, should such decisions be left solely to individuals, or should society as a whole have some say? Perhaps we should develop some rules.
 
By “we” I mean we. All of us, including you and me. Figuring out if and when to edit our genes will be one of the most consequential questions of the twenty-first century, so I thought it would be useful to understand how it’s done. Likewise, recurring waves of virus epidemics make it important to understand the life sciences. There’s a joy that springs from fathoming how something works, especially when that something is ourselves. Doudna relished that joy, and so can we. That’s what this book is about.
 
 
The invention of CRISPR and the plague of COVID will hasten our transition to the third great revolution of modern times. These revolutions arose from the discovery, beginning just over a century ago, of the three fundamental kernels of our existence: the atom, the bit, and the gene.
 
The first half of the twentieth century, beginning with Albert Einstein’s 1905 papers on relativity and quantum theory, featured a revolution driven by physics. In the five decades following his miracle year, his theories led to atom bombs and nuclear power, transistors and spaceships, lasers and radar.
 
The second half of the twentieth century was an information-technology era, based on the idea that all information could be encoded by binary digits—known as bits—and all logical processes could be performed by circuits with on-off switches. In the 1950s, this led to the development of the microchip, the computer, and the internet. When these three innovations were combined, the digital revolution was born.
 
Now we have entered a third and even more momentous era, a life-science revolution. Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code.
 
When Doudna was a graduate student in the 1990s, other biologists were racing to map the genes that are coded by our DNA. But she became more interested in DNA’s less-celebrated sibling, RNA. It’s the molecule that actually does the work in a cell by copying some of the instructions coded by the DNA and using them to build proteins. Her quest to understand RNA led her to that most fundamental question: How did life begin? She studied RNA molecules that could replicate themselves, which raised the possibility that in the stew of chemicals on this planet four billion years ago they started to reproduce
even before DNA came into being.
 
As a biochemist at Berkeley studying the molecules of life, she focused on figuring out their structure. If you’re a detective, the most basic clues in a biological whodunit come from discovering how a molecule’s twists and folds determine the way it interacts with other molecules. In Doudna’s case, that meant studying the structure of RNA. It was an echo of the work Rosalind Franklin had done with DNA, which was used by James Watson and Francis Crick to discover the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953. As it happens, Watson, a complex figure, would weave in and out of Doudna’s life.
 
Doudna’s expertise in RNA led to a call from a biologist at Berkeley who was studying the CRISPR system that bacteria developed in their battle against viruses. Like a lot of basic science discoveries, it turned out to have practical applications. Some were rather ordinary, such as protecting the bacteria in yogurt cultures. But in 2012 Doudna and others figured out a more earth-shattering use: how to turn CRISPR into a tool to edit genes.
 
CRISPR is now being used to treat sickle-cell anemia, cancers, and blindness. And in 2020, Doudna and her teams began exploring how CRISPR could detect and destroy the coronavirus. “CRISPR evolved in bacteria because of their long-running war against viruses,” Doudna says. “We humans don’t have time to wait for our own cells to evolve natural resistance to this virus, so we have to use our ingenuity to do that. Isn’t it fitting that one of the tools is this ancient bacterial immune system called CRISPR? Nature is beautiful that way.” Ah, yes. Remember that phrase: Nature is beautiful. That’s another theme of this book.
 
 
There are other star players in the field of gene editing. Most of them deserve to be the focus of biographies or perhaps even movies. (The elevator pitch: A Beautiful Mind meets Jurassic Park.) They play important roles in this book, because I want to show that science is a team sport. But I also want to show the impact that a persistent, sharply inquisitive, stubborn, and edgily competitive player can have. With a smile that sometimes (but not always) masks the wariness in her eyes, Jennifer Doudna turned out to be a great central character. She has the instincts to be collaborative, as any scientist must, but ingrained in her character is a competitive streak, which most great innovators have. With her emotions usually carefully controlled, she wears her star status lightly.
 
Her life story—as a researcher, Nobel Prize winner, and public policy thinker—connects the CRISPR tale to some larger historical threads, including the role of women in science. Her work also illustrates, as Leonardo da Vinci’s did, that the key to innovation is connecting a curiosity about basic science to the practical work of devising tools that can be applied to our lives—moving discoveries from lab bench to bedside.
 
By telling her story, I hope to give an up-close look at how science works. What actually happens in a lab? To what extent do discoveries depend on individual genius, and to what extent has teamwork become more critical? Has the competition for prizes and patents undermined collaboration?
 
Most of all, I want to convey the importance of basic science, meaning quests that are curiosity-driven rather than application-oriented. Curiosity-driven research into the wonders of nature plants the seeds, sometimes in unpredictable ways, for later innovations.3 Research about surface-state physics eventually led to the transistor and microchip. Likewise, studies of an astonishing method that bacteria use to fight off viruses eventually led to a gene-editing tool and techniques that humans can use in their own struggle against viruses.
 
It is a story filled with the biggest of questions, from the origins of life to the future of the human race. And it begins with a sixth-grade girl who loved searching for “sleeping grass” and other fascinating phenomena amid the lava rocks of Hawaii, coming home from school one day and finding on her bed a detective tale about the people who discovered what they proclaimed to be, with only a little exaggeration, “the secret of life.”
 

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