Walter Isaacson suggests that if one is searching for a summer read, a nail-biting mystery perhaps, his latest biography on the woman behind gene editing is the way to go.

It is “a thrilling detective story,” Mr Isaacson said.

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race follows the quest of Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna and her fellow biochemists to unlock the secrets of CRISPR, a tool that can edit DNA and thus revolutionize medicine.

Mr. Isaacson said he was drawn to the story because of its potential to transform our world.

“I had been interested in the digital revolution and written about Steve Jobs, but I realized that the great revolution of our time was going to be the life sciences revolution,” he said in a phone interview with the Gazette. “We are going to be able to edit our own genes, we are going to be able to messenger ourselves to make vaccines inside our bodies, and this is going to transform things even more than the digital revolution. And Jennifer Doudna is just this wonderful researcher. She’s like a detective uncovering the mysteries of life.”

Mr. Isaacson, a professor of history at Tulane, has built his career penning biographies of famous men, such as Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo da Vinci. Jennifer Doudna was his first female subject.

Ms. Doudna was inspired during childhood by reading about Rosalind Franklin, the pioneering DNA scientist in James Watson’s The Double Helix. It helped her imagine that women could be scientists. Mr. Isaacson hopes readers learning about Ms. Doudna will feel similarly encouraged.

“I wanted to write a book that other people, girls and boys and men and women, could pick up and be inspired about the beauty of science because I think if you have role models, it can inspire you,” he said.

Mr. Isaacson said that he had been writing the book for four years before the Covid pandemic struck. Thee public health crisis reoriented the scope of his endeavor, he said, with the hunt for a vaccine giving the story of Ms. Doudna’s work increased immediacy.

“It was wonderful to be in [Doudna’s] lab, standing next to her, and to be in the lab of her colleagues and rivals as they had this race to discover how to edit human genes, and then this race about how to beat the pandemic. And so I got to tell the story as it unfolded in real-time, as if it were an action adventure, rather than a piece of history.”

The book balances serious science and storytelling.

“I worked with a lot of scientists to make sure I wasn’t oversimplifying, but the goal was to make it simple enough that somebody who hasn’t even looked at the word biology since high school could easily read the book,” Mr. Isaacson said.

It also builds a vivid and entangled web of supporting characters around the nucleus of Ms. Doudna.

“There are so many colorful characters in the book, and I just traveled around and spent a lot of time with each of them,” Mr. Isaacson said.

This entailed zigzagging the globe, visiting places like Berlin, Boston and Berkeley. Mr. Isaacson employs first-person narration in various moments, making himself another character among the cast.

“I was reporting this book in real time and actually involved as the story was unfolding,” he said. “I decided that it was useful and would be more honest, for the reader, for me to occasionally narrate in the first person because I wanted the reader to be able to go hand-in-hand with Jennifer Doudna, but also hand in hand with me, as we all try to understand how gene editing and vaccines work.”

The research and writing process allowed Mr. Isaacson to live out a childhood wish of his own. Like Ms. Doudna, he read the Double Helix in his youth. However, unlike Ms. Doudna he never became a scientist.

“I found my old copy of The Double Helix my dad gave me when I was in middle school and there are words in the margin that I wrote, like biochemistry, that I had never heard of before,” he said. “I kind of wish that I had spent more time studying science, but this was a way to make up for that, to both teach myself but hopefully inspire others about the beauty of how nature works.”

Walter Issaacson was scheduled to sit down with Daniel Kahneman at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum for an opening night conversation and reception on Thursday. On Saturday, he takes part in an author talk with Holden Thorp beginning at 10 a.m. at the Chilmark Community Center.