Breaking Through: My Life in Science
A powerful memoir from Katalin Karikó, winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, whose decades-long research led to the COVID-19 vaccines
“Katalin Karikó’s story is an inspiration.”—Bill Gates
“Riveting . . . a true story of a brilliant biochemist who never gave up or gave in.”—Bonnie Garmus, author of Lessons in Chemistry
A KIRKUS REVIEWS BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
Katalin Karikó has had an unlikely journey. The daughter of a butcher in postwar communist Hungary, Karikó grew up in an adobe home that lacked running water, and her family grew their own vegetables. She saw the wonders of nature all around her and was determined to become a scientist. That determination eventually brought her to the United States, where she arrived as a postdoctoral fellow in 1985 with $1,200 sewn into her toddler’s teddy bear and a dream to remake medicine.
Karikó worked in obscurity, battled cockroaches in a windowless lab, and faced outright derision and even deportation threats from her bosses and colleagues. She balked as prestigious research institutions increasingly conflated science and money. Despite setbacks, she never wavered in her belief that an ephemeral and underappreciated molecule called messenger RNA could change the world. Karikó believed that someday mRNA would transform ordinary cells into tiny factories capable of producing their own medicines on demand. She sacrificed nearly everything for this dream, but the obstacles she faced only motivated her, and eventually she succeeded.
Karikó’s three-decade-long investigation into mRNA would lead to a staggering achievement: vaccines that protected millions of people from the most dire consequences of COVID-19. These vaccines are just the beginning of mRNA’s potential. Today, the medical community eagerly awaits more mRNA vaccines—for the flu, HIV, and other emerging infectious diseases.
Breaking Through isn’t just the story of an extraordinary woman. It’s an indictment of closed-minded thinking and a testament to one woman’s commitment to laboring intensely in obscurity—knowing she might never be recognized in a culture that is driven by prestige, power, and privilege—because she believed her work would save lives.
Praise for Breaking Through: My Life in Science
“A riveting testament to resilience and the power of unwavering belief, Breaking Through charts an inspirational journey from growing up in postwar communist Hungary to transforming the world with mRNA.”—Jennifer Doudna, Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry and author of A Crack in Creation
“Katalin Karikó’s story is an inspiration. Anyone who has ever doubted that science, innovation, and persistence can change the world should read this book.”—Bill Gates, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
“Karikó’s proven recipe (from the creative Hungarian kitchen) for a breakthrough in science: Start with an insatiable curiosity in education and research. Then, for a few decades, look for gaps in knowledge; work hard for years to fill some of them; don’t give up because of difficulties or circumstances; and, finally, seize the opportunity to help solve one painful problem of humanity, thereby opening new horizons for the future of medicine. Bon appétit, enjoy your sweets!”—Ernő Rubik, inventor of the Rubik’s Cube and author of Cubed
“Katalin Karikó’s remarkable life story, which incidentally began not far from where I spent my childhood, inspires us not to be held back even in the face of severe difficulties. It encourages us to stay strong and follow through with important ideas that can change the world.”—Stefan Hell, Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry
“Inspiring, riveting. . . . An outstanding memoir with a happy ending.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Karikó describes her research with a palpable sense of wonder, . . . successfully distilling complex scientific matters. The result is the rousing story of a remarkable woman and her lifesaving contributions to medicine.”—Publishers Weekly