This book tries to answer three related questions: What is life? How did it emerge? How can we make it? They are related because, for instance, if we knew what is life we could conjecture how it emerged and if we were able to create it we should then understand it. It was Feynman who said that he could only understand things when he was able to create them.
Of the three questions, the most difficult to answer it is how life emerged on Earth. It is difficult because the oldest fossil evidence is 3,600 million years old, but life could have appeared on Earth between 200 and 400 milions before that and, although there are some proposals about the environment where it appeared, there is nothing certain. This subject is so difficult that reputed scientists have proposed to solve it saying that life came from space. Naturally that only puts the problem somewhere else: where and how did life emerge in some other planet.
Since we are not yet ready to create life in the lab, the author of the book concentrates in trying to answer what is life. The answer is that life is part of a special chemistry that we have been able to perform in the lab experiment after experiment in the last 40 years: it is replicative chemistry. There are several experiments that are explained and that mainly consist in RNA replicating itself, mutating and evolving in a way that the fast replicator is the one that wins. Complexification is also part of the story. When two selected RNA molecules are put together they replicate more times and more quickly than just one of then due to cross catalysis.
In a simulation, if a replicating molecule is able to capture energy by means of, for instance, a primitive photosynthesis, this molecule will outperform even a faster replicator because it can build copies out of inactive ingredients that can be activated by energy. Thus, the author believes that replication was helped by metabolism.
Normal chemistry follows the second law of thermodynamics. Substances, like hydrogen and oxygen, react because the result, water in this case, is more stable. Replicative chemistry follows another law: dynamic kynetic stability. To understand it the author uses a metaphor: a river is normally stable, but the water that flows is not the same. In the same way, the cells in our body, for instance, are constantly renovated, but we persist. Naturally to escape the second law you need energy.
Well, I hope that these "snippets" of the book entice the potential reader to buy the book. The book is not long and can be read in a few days and anybody with a minimum science education will be able to follow the arguments.