The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

Written by:
Walter Isaacson
Narrated by:
Kathe Mazur

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
March 2021
16 hours 4 minutes
A 2022 Audie Award Finalist

A Best Book of 2021 by Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Time, and The Washington Post

The bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs returns with a “compelling” (The Washington Post) 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 codiscovery 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 an “enthralling detective story” (Oprah Daily) that involves the most profound wonders of nature, from the origins of life to the future of our species.
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Even I could understand it. Just think: The end of malaria? HIV? Sickle disease? I hope I live long enough to see this progression. I believe Brazil released billions of gene edited mosquitoes to end the horror of Zika.

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This is the perfect book for both the non-scientist and the scientifically bent. The CRISPR technology and gene editing are among the most important advances in science and medicine. The book is well written and everyone I recommended it to has thanked me profusely for the suggestion.

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Chris B.

Fascinating, loved it

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Very interesting - easy to get distracted at times in the details.

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Fascinating and accessible. I loved the discussion of the ethical issues. Not as simple as I thought

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Norman P.

Outstanding!! Walter Isaacson shows why he is considered one of America’s greatest non-fiction writers. He takes complex science and makes it understandable for people , like me, that have no science aptitude. I cannot encourage people enough to read this book.

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George J.

I total science nerd basically a contemporary of the people mentioned in this book, I started in the same direction and beard up in the medicine. This is very exciting kidney on the edge of my seat and honestly I wouldn’t of cared who narrated it I couldn’t stop the whole concepts how are completely just the beginning. And Covid but them all together for one cause, “ The entire human race“. This story has only just begun.

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Deborah R.

As a bit of a science nerd, with family ties to Berkeley, the book was interesting and certainly worth the time to listen. Although I like the reader, Kathe Mazur, I am not sure her style fit this book.

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One of the most interesting books I’ve ever read! Or listened to.

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