Kemp provides a definitive summary for the policymaker or general reader of energy politics of the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, all of which border the Caspian Sea. Situating the area's oil and gas potential within the global energy picture, he finds the Caspian promising, but nothing like the Persian Gulf, which will remain central to the world oil outlook (though peripheral for gas). In addition, Caspian energy could bring revenue worth tens of billions of dollars to local governments and international energy firms.

This said, Kemp shows the myriad problems before Caspian oil and gas can reach world markets. All three countries are landlocked, and must depend on troubled or troublesome neighbors. Existing pipelines, such as they are, run through Russia, which all would like to avoid for both political and commercial reasons (they fear Russia will exact higher fees and reinforce its political influence). But selling Turkmenistan gas to India, the commercially most attractive market, requires going through Pakistan and either Iran or Afghanistan. Despite the problems of such a daunting route, some in Turkmenistan and the major energy firms actually think this is the most promising plan—a sure sign of their desperation. As this example shows, diplomats and strategists will be key to unlocking Caspian energy—which explains why the U.S. government has become so involved in seemingly arcane issues in an obscure area, even as it has become less important in most other parts of the energy business, where the role of market forces has grown.