One realization I just came to (although it's really quite obvious), which is the kind of thing I would have expected to be mentioned in "Jews G-d and History", is that it seems one of the reasons Jews have risen to prominence in the countries they have reached is due to the Talmud. What is usually mentioned though, is that the reason for this is that their minds were sharpened in the sharp, penetrating and analytical arguments and give-and-takes of the Talmud. One thing I think worth considering though, is that their minds were undoubtedly sharpened by the breadth of subject matter that the laws of the Mishna and the Talmud cover as well.
This thought came to me as I was involved in reading Mishna, Tractate Kilayim (though the same is true for any other tractate, and definitely for the Talmud); one must have a firm grounding in botony if one is to ever fully comprehend the underlying principles of that tractate, as well as for parts of Tractate Berakhot and other tractates. But then again, one must be proficient in the realities of real estate interactions to fully comprehend the principles behind Tractate Bava Batra (of Nezikin). One too must have a firm grip on mathematics and geometry for one to understand the more technical discussions in parts of the Talmud.
Even today; one cannot come to a decision about whether pasteurized grape juice if fitting for the blessing recited upon wine if one does not comprehend the physical and chemical reality of pasteurization. And so on and so fourth, with all the laws. The 'artist' must know what is going on on 'Wall street'. The 'banker' has to know what is happening in the 'art world'.
Therefore one must have a great storehouse of many different branches of wisdom in order to understand 'The Torah'. But for these studies the knowledge one gains in the process is not mundane- for it being a means to understand G-d's word sanctifies it to a level of purpose and import that it otherwise would not have had.
And in my mind, it is this 'worldliness' that the Mishna and Talmud (not to mention The Tanakh) afford the Jew that has made him intellectually a step above the rest, and has given him prominence in the countries he has travelled.
(Sorry about having so many pictures- I just couldn't part with them!)
[לאפוקי מדעת המתנגדים לעיון ב"ספרים חיצונים", וסוברים דכל מה שאפשר לדעת כבר נמצא בתורה]