The title would suggest that a compelling narrative is within; do not expect one as this is not as riveting an account as travels to the new world. Also, do not expect a story about the Crusades. That being said, this book is rich in its own way—its true value is in the author's analytical insights which are quite ahead of their time.
Ibn Jubayr offers a great and unique 'snapshot' of lands around the Crusader kingdoms and Middle East at the height of the Crusading era and lets you feel the 'pulse' of these regions. He makes detailed notes of each of the lands he travels and provides interesting information on the economic and social prosperity (or lack thereof) in each of the regions. He especially focuses on the abundance of produce in regions; giving you a good feel for regions that were thriving because of trade/pilgrim routes and agricultural exports. Of primary focus, the core of the book is his ~9 months spent in and around Mecca, where he provides great information on the site, procedure and spirit of both the lesser and Great Hajj pilgrimages.
These are specific episodes that I found most enjoyable as being unique, memorable and vivid:
•Descriptions of the picturesque beauty along the ascent of the Nile river;
•Fascinating analysis of the protocol/functionality of African & Arabian desert caravans—including wake-up calls and missing person's services!
•Memorable description of the Crystal-blue waters of the reef-laden Red Sea
•Valuable description of a lively, innovative (and tolerant, contemporarily speaking) society in Norman Sicily.
•An elegant wedding scene in Sicily set against its beautiful cathedrals.
•A good account of the produce-rich Mesopotamian regions (no wonder why it's called 'the fertile crescent').
•Ingenious 'Flood' zone tax measured by the apt-named 'Nilometer'—rising waters may not lift all boats…but they raise taxes!
•Enthralling sermons of the Baghdadi imams/scholars in contrast with the reclusive, waning Abbasid Caliphs.
•Beautiful scenes of 'blessed rain' and spontaneous outbreaks of pious Quran recitations in Mecca.
•Assessment of Saladin's effective and equitable administration (800 years later we are still using the same benchmark: whether the streets safe at night?)
•(Perhaps most amazing) a description of the paradoxical times where Muslim and Christian armies are gripped in bloody struggles while simultaneously adherents of either religion may travel freely in each other's lands with the firm expectation of being unmolested!
Overall, I enjoyed his focus on the 'pulse' of the regions/cities he visited. In each area, he painted a picture of the manners (good or bad) and the feel of whether the area has seen its best days or whether they are still to come. I appreciated that the challenges faced by people 800 years ago are nearly the same as today: basic needs for safety and community. We have overcome a lot of challenges since then, but I feel that their concerns over local economies and festival enjoyment are the same.
From a travel writing perspective, this book is fantastic; I only wish he had gone on to give first-hand accounts of Persian and Byzantine regions!