This book addresses the question of how life may have arisen on earth, in the spirit of an intriguing detective story. It relies on the methods of Sherlock Holmes, in particular his principle that one should use the most paradoxical features of a case to crack it. This approach to the essential biological problems is not merely light-hearted, but a fascinating scrutiny of some very fundamental questions. 'I know of no other book that succeeds as well as this one in maintaining the central question in focus throughout. It is a summary of the best evolutionary thinking as applied to the origins of life in which the important issues are addressed pertinently, economically and with a happy recourse to creative analogies.' Nature '... a splendid story - and a much more convincing one than the molecular biologists can offer as an alternative. Cairns-Smith has argued his case before in the technical scientific literature, here he sets it out in a way from which anyone - even those whose chemistry and biology stopped at sixteen - can learn.' New Statesman
Preface; Sources of quotations; 1. Inquest; 2. Messages, messages; 3. Build your own E. coli; 4. The inner machinery; 5. A garden path?; 6. Look more closely at the signposts; 7. A clue in a Chinese box; 8. Missing pieces; 9. The trouble with molecules; 10. Crystals; 11. The clay-making machine; 12. Gene-1; 13. Evolving by direct action; 14. Takeover; 15. Summing-up: the seven clues; Appendices; Glossary; Index.