Steve Jobs’ biographer’s new book tells story of gene-editing pioneer


The Code Breaker
New book tells the story of pioneer Jennifer Doudna.
Photo: Simon & Schuster

Steve Jobs’ hand-picked biographer, Walter Isaacson, has a new book out this month. Titled The Codebreaker, it’s the story of Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Jennifer Doudna, one of the inventors of DNA gene-editing system CRISPR.

She was also one of the pioneers in the discovery of RNA, the molecule behind the COVID-19 vaccines currently rolling out around the world.

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The preview to the book reads, in part:

“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 …

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.”

Steve Jobs and Walter Isaacson

As Walter Isaacson noted in his mega best-selling Steve Jobs, released a decade ago, he had known Jobs since 1984. However, it wasn’t until 2004 that he was approached about writing his official biography. They had a few on-and-off discussions about Jobs’ biography, before Isaacson finally agreed to write it in 2009. It was released shortly after Jobs’ death. It was the only Jobs-focused book produced after Jobs’ 1985 Apple departure which he gave interviews for.

Since then, Isaacson has written three books. These include 2014’s enjoyable The Innovators and 2017’s Leonardo Da Vinci. I enjoy Isaacson as an accessible biographer, and am definitely interested in reading this new book.

Interestingly, inside Apple his work is viewed far less favorably. Steve Jobs was denounced by a number of top Apple executives. Apple’s preferred Steve Jobs biography is 2015’s Becoming Steve Jobs. At the time that latter book was released, an Apple spokesperson said that:

“After a long period of reflection following Steve’s death, we felt a sense of responsibility to say more about the Steve we knew. We decided to participate in [Becoming Steve Jobs] book because of [author Brent Schlender’s] long relationship with Steve, which gave him a unique perspective on Steve’s life. The book captures Steve better than anything else we’ve seen, and we are happy we decided to participate.”

What do you think of Walter Isaacson as a biographer? Which Steve Jobs biog did you get the most out of? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

You can pre-order The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race from Amazon for $25.49. It will be released March 9.