A New Science Classic in Review: A Crack in Creation

July 8, 2021 Uncategorized 7 ★★★

A New Science Classic in Review: A Crack in CreationTitle: A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution
Author: Jennifer A. Doudna, Samuel H. Sternberg
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: A valuable perspective, but less comprehensive or engaging than the more recent Isaacson bio.

This memoir from Dr. Jennifer Doudna, Nobel prize-winning co-discoverer of the CRISPR gene editing system, is sure to become a science classic. Like The Double Helix by James Watson, it’s a chance to hear about an incredible scientific discovery from one of the scientists involved.

Despite the value of this first-person perspective, I must admit that for most readers, I’d recommend Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Doudna instead. Since this book was published several years prior to Isaacson’s bio, most of this story was also included in his book. I’m sure he used it as a source.  Doudna’s book was clearly and simply written. It includes slightly more scientific detail than Isaacson’s book. However, she spends at least as much time explaining basic biology and is sometimes repetitive. Doudna’s book was not quite as engaging as Isaacson’s either, which makes sense given that only one of them is a professional author.

I think scientists and non-scientists alike are likely to enjoy the Isaacson book more. If you’re interested enough in this story though, these two books made for a great pairing. The difference I found most interesting was that Isaacson clearly identifies Doudna’s competitive side. Here, she emphasizes how happy she was to collaborate, never expressing the frustration she must have felt when being scooped. I would probably recommend reading Doudna’s book first. I think Isaacson’s book will hold up better as a second look at this story. He also covers her more recent work, post her publication of this book. As a scientist doing related work, I’m glad I read both.

7 Responses to “A New Science Classic in Review: A Crack in Creation”

  1. Jenny @ Reading the End

    Isn’t she the one (well, one of the ones) who said that we needed a moratorium on actually doing gene editing until we’d had some time to consider the ramifications? Because I respected that so much.

    • Lory @ Entering the Enchanted Castle

      Goodness, yes. Haven’t we had enough messing around with nature before considering the consequences? If there is any profit to be made, however, then I fear that sadly Doudna’s voice of reason will not be heard. Scientists and their discoveries are amazing, but I do wish that the headlong pace of discovery could slow down until our moral strength has a chance to catch up.
      Lory @ Entering the Enchanted Castle recently posted…Introducing the Emerald City Book Review ArchiveMy Profile

      • DoingDewey

        I tend to agree that corporations are unlikely to slow down. Ideally, we’d reach some sort of social consensus about what’s acceptable and some part of that would be codified legally, but I think understanding by the general public and by law makers lags too much behind the science for that to be realistic.

    • DoingDewey

      Yep, that’s her – at least a moratorium on gene editing that can be inherited. It seems like a lot of her motivation in writing this book was to explain the science for a lay audience so that more people can be involved in the conversation that needs to happen around the ethics of gene editing. She seems to be being very thoughtful about that.

  2. Rennie

    I’m wavering on whether I should read the Isaacson book, as it does sound really interesting but also I’m afraid of getting lost in territory that’s too dense or esoteric for me. But good to know that it includes much of the story from this one, and sounds a bit more accessible and better written.

    • DoingDewey

      I’m not sure if the Isaacson would work for you or not. It is quite long – I’m guessing the second on her work related to Covid was added after the book was otherwise finished, but it did read really easily. Unfortunately, the only people I’ve talked to about it are my science nonfiction book club, which is full of scientists. You might get better info on how accessible it is from some other reviews 🙂

  1. #NonficNov Be/Ask/Become The Expert - Doing Dewey

    […] A Crack in Creation is a memoir by the same Jennifer Doudna in the biography I just mentioned. As a scientist, I had to read this. It’s a look at Doudna’s Noble Prize winning work from her own perspective and I think it’s predestined to become science classic. However, it wasn’t as engaging as the biography though and I actually felt like I didn’t get to know Doudna as well. […]

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