Azerbaijan, Swietochowski rightly notes, is "the quintessential borderland," being Turkish and Iranian, Sunni and Shi`i, Muslim and Christian, Russian and Middle Eastern, European and Asian. He also notes its other points of interest. Falling under Russian rule from 1804 on, Azerbaijan stands out as the first part of the Middle East brought under the rule of a modern European colonial power. Having been divided into two parts (Russian and Iranian) since 1828, it is the nation that has by far the longest endured the strains of split development.

Writings in English on Azerbaijan are meager and not of the highest quality. Russia and Azerbaijan improves matters by helping to make sense of the country's history, but its account is limited to coverage of the northern (i.e., Russian) part and to a dry, top-down history (for the Russian imperial period the author relies inordinately on literary magazines).

Current interest in Azerbaijan stems from its dramatic return to history as a vital pivot between Russia, Turkey, and Iran; as a newly important oil exporter; and as the Armenians' opponent in a vicious war since 1988. Contemplating the Turkish-Iranian rivalry for influence over independent Azerbaijan, the author foresees Turkey's connecting Azeris to the larger world; but Iran, because of its Islamic emphasis and its inclusion of souther Azerbaijan, will have a greater impact on their evolving national identity.