Christof Koch 2017. Consciousness. Confessions of a romantic reductionist. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. 181 pp.

This book should be much more interesting than it is, coming from a long-time collaborator of the late great Francis Crick. Instead, it is poorly structured and not very original (I found nothing that isn’t covered more cogently by David Eagleman, Ray Kurzweil and others). All the frequently-asked questions are dealt with (free will, the “hard” problem, are animals conscious?, what structures might be neural correlates of consciousness, etc.) but I found it was hard to grasp what, if anything, the author wants to say about progress in the field. If this book is a guide, not much. But that doesn’t seem to be the goal; this is rather a memoir, punctuated by increasingly gratuitous and personal anecdotes about youth, children, pets, personal breakdowns, revelations of mortality, marriage collapse and esoteric music interests (some of which I even share). It reads more like a therapy session, in parts. With drastic editing the book could have become a much more interesting magazine article.

I’m sure if I were to sit down with Christof Koch we could have an enjoyable evening chat together (as long as he hasn’t read this). But he should stick to more prosaic writing. Koch has previously written a more traditional book on research in consciousness, The Quest for Consciousness (2004; Roberts & Company), but I haven’t been able to get hands on that yet and am now less inclined to try. Better, probably, to read the original literature they have published together, such as Crick, F., and Koch, C. (2003). A framework for consciousness. Nature Neuroscience 6, 119–126, and Francis Crick’s own 1995 book The Astonishing Hypothesis which I read long ago and now need to revisit.