What revolution promises to be bigger – and potentially more important to us and the lives of future generations – than computers or the discovery of the atom?

This great book argues that it will be gene editing – the ability to change our DNA in targeted ways using CRISPR technology to transform our health and characteristics. For instance, CRISPR techniques can be used to ensure hereditary diseases like sickle-cell anaemia and cystic fibrosis aren’t passed on to children. It also has the potential to be used to make people stronger and less prone to depression, for instance, which raises all sorts of practical and moral dilemmas.

But what is gene editing, where did it come from, how soon will it arrive and what are the implications? Walter Isaacson addresses all these questions masterfully in The Code Breaker (Simon & Schuster,  $35.00). It centres on the 2020 Nobel Prize–winning American scientist Jennifer Doudna and a small group of pioneers who developed the CRISPR gene editing technology over the past decade.

I’d recommend it for a number of reasons. First, it’s a great read full of interesting personalities competing to achieve breakthroughs in a new field of science – and even behaving badly at times as the professional and financial stakes rise.

Second, it’s important to understand what gene editing is about because it’s going to be all around us over the next decade or two. For instance, if you’re a parent, are you prepared for the day your kids might tell you they’re planning to edit your grandkids before they arrive?

Third, it’s interesting from a business and investment point of view because some of the companies in the book are now public, so you can track their values and next steps.

Finally, as a 536-page hardback from an author who used to edit Time Magazine and has written biographies of the likes of Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, it’s a good Christmas present for people who might be hard to buy for and even harder to edit, like your father-in-law.

Grant Butler


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