This book review (which Arts and Letters Daily brought to my attention) by John Derbyshire of Nicholas Ostler’s Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World reminds me to tell you that Ostler’s book is indeed very interesting and useful, even for a layman. Take a look at it.
He thinks Sanskrit is an especially interesting language that has, somehow from the start, encouraged its users and grammarians to have disputations about grammar. This "provided a natural forum for intellectual exercise and argument" that, somehow, appealed to "abstract principle." So, Ostler argues, while Sanskrit based civilization treasures its epics and literary classics, its culture does not revolve around them (as does Greek, for example). "Nor does its philosophy emphasize socially useful theories, such as politics, ethics or the art of persuasion. Rather it theorizes about states of being and modes of perception. There is a certain sense in which Sanskrit theory fails to connect with the practical world."