The Codebreaker by Walter Isaacson [8/10]

Walter Isaacson never disappoints, and with “The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race,” he has written a fascinating, bang-up-to-the-minute account of a biochemistry milestone, the invention of CRISPR, a revolutionary, easy-to-use means of editing DNA code. CRISPR is most often credited to Berkeley biochemist Jennifer Doudna, and Isaacson hangs this book on her story, but a large group of associates aided her, and several brilliant rivals goaded her to her success, and Isaacson gives their stories air time. Doudna has herself written an account of the CRISPR discovery, but Isaacson’s book is not only far more fulsome and interesting concerning the race to bag credit, it is also (surprisingly) better at explaining how bacteria mesh with viruses to create CRISPR. Isaacson is a fluid writer at the apex of his craft and The Codebreaker is a fast, immersive read. And the book tackles head on the ethical dilemmas now confronting humanity (Doudna has spearheaded much of the discussion). One of the most useful yet human-oriented science books of the year, The Codebreaker deserves to be read widely indeed.

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