Like almost all of Mark Twain’s books (though the novels tend to be more focused, and I don’t generally like his short stories), this book is at times the funniest thing I’ve ever read, and other times either a little boring, a little too mired in contemporary reference, or a little meandering. This book is also pretty long, so combined with those other possible issues it can be a little trying, if rewarding as well.
It’s 1866 or so, and Mark Twain decides to take on a trip to Europe, Asia Minor, the Levant, and North Africa, as a travelling correspondent. He joins an all expenses paid voyage that promises not only a hugely diverse and expansive range of destinations, but also a very discretionary passenger list, and from the later parts of the book, it’s clear that if not the best of America, certainly some of the richest have made it aboard. They spend a smallish (but still significant) amount of time in the various locations, and it’s funny because he spends a lot of words on some of the early parts of the trip like the Azores, and loses steam a little by end.
He brings his very American distrust of anything “noble” or “royal” and this leads to some hilarious discussions of things like Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, built after the Revolution and more democratic in spirit (it’s were Balzac, Jim Morrison, and Maria Callas, among many others are buried). It’s also famous because as part of a promotion of the new cemetery, they brought in the remains of Abelard and Heloise, famous letter writers, to be housed there, and Twain spends some time telling a very non-official version of their story. He hated Abelard for example.
The rest of the book is episodic in these ways. He makes digressions and funny comments throughout if you’re into that.