It details the 1867 chartered trip on the [ridiculous looking sidewheeler] retrofitted USS Quaker City with many fellow Americans as they travel through the Mediterranean countries to the Holy Land, and a last stop in Egypt, before setting steam for home.
The book spends quite some time on the provisioning and other organizational activities. One of the fun details of the official charter was something to the effect of "The voyage may be extended or the destination changed by the unanimous vote of the passengers."
Much of the book has the wit and charm one would expect of Twain, but the book slows down considerably in the second half when he reaches the Holy Land. I'm afraid he felt the same thing that I fear I would feel if I were there. Boredom. Twain derives some amusement at the expense of the 'pilgrims' among the passengers, those with a religious motive for making the trip. But apart from a few scenes that appear to have filled him with weighty reflections, his main impression was...
A writer in "Life in the Holy Land" observes:
Monotonous and uninviting as much of the Holy Land will appear to persons accustomed to the almost constant verdure of flowers, ample streams and varied surface of our own country, we must remember that its aspect to the Israelites after the weary march of forty years through the desert must have been very different.
Which all of us will freely grant. But it truly is "monotonous and uninviting," and there is no sufficient reason for describing it as being otherwise.
Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint, no striking object, no soft picture dreaming in a purple haze or mottled with the shadows of the clouds. Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective -- distance works no enchantment here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.