The Problem with the JCs

Although I always read a whole book before I write a review of it [Exception: I reviewed the New Palgrave for Fortune after having read “only” about 300 of its 1,196 entries] and I usually read the footnotes, somehow I missed this one from Matt Ridley’s excellent book, The Rational Optimist:

Incidentally, I find it strange to recall that my education was utterly dominated by two stories: the Bible’s and Rome’s. Both were disappointing examples of history. One told the story of an obscure, violent and somewhat bigoted tribe and one its later cults, who sat around gazing at their theological navels for a few thousand years while their fascinating neighbors–the Phoenicians, Philistines, Canaanites, Lydians and Greeks–invented respectively maritime trade, iron, the alphabet, coins and geometry. The other told the story of a barbarically violent people who founded one of the empires that institutionalized the plundering of its commercially minded neighbors, then went on to invent practically nothing in half a millennium and achieve an actual diminution in living standards for its citizens, very nearly extinguishing literacy as it died. I exaggerate, but there are more interesting figures in history than Jesus Christ or Julius Caesar. (p. 389 of hard cover)

This is slightly overstated as was, I argued in my review [scroll down], some of the rest of Ridley’s book. The most important thing I learned from the Bible during my Christian days, for example, was to turn the other cheek. Still, Ridley makes a good point.

HT to Jeff Hummel.