'ENJOYABLE AND GRIPPING' were not the words I expected to use about this book. 'Important', yes, and I anticipated recommending grimly that we owed it to ourselves to read Lutz Kleveman's book if we wished to speak with any authority on the future of relations between the great powers in the next few decades. But a book on oil reserves, multinationals and the World Bank was bound to be full of figures. Thls one contains some, of course, but it is primarily a travel book, and to my surprise I came to resent the moments when I had to put it down. Even more surprisingly, I wished that its author would turn out to be British, at least by upbringing, so that I could take pride in him, as I dld recently in another star of reportage produced by the troubles in the Middle East, Jason Burke of The Observer. Not only does Kleveman brim with ingenuity, he also seems to have been so charming that virtually no fox of a diplomat or politician, east or west, could resist giving him an interview. On one occasion, somewhere above Kazakhstan, a tycoon who finds Kleveman sitting beside him in his private plane and sipping his champagne has to ask him: 'Who are you and who let you on board my jet?' But, alas, he turns out to be a German brought up in America and merely educated in Britain, at the London School of Economics.
The author takes a useful geographic approach to his subject. He begins in the far west of the 'arc of crisis' that stretches from Georgia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus, across the new Central Asian republics formed from the former Soviet Union, to Afghanistan and Pakistan. As he travels from