If you’re looking for something to believe in, you could do worse than Timothy Egan’s particular blend of intelligence and empathy ... If this book doesn’t quite settle the question of belief for you, it will at least fortify your faith in scrupulous reporting and captivating storytelling ... Hoping to gain an audience with the pontiff, Egan drafts a letter praising Francis’ anticonsumerism and treatment of refugees. His efforts make for an absorbing subplot even if they don’t bear fruit ... a stunningly comprehensive history of both Christianity and Western Europe ... In fact, there’s so much history that the plot can sometimes feel like an excuse to get the background in, though one hardly complains; Egan is so well informed, he starts to seem like the world’s greatest tour guide. You follow along as much to hear him talk as to see the sights. It feels as if there’s nothing he hasn’t digested for the reader, and his extraordinary reliability is reminiscent of that of the monks he describes so evocatively throughout the book ... marvelous ... Reading [this book], you feel yourself in the presence of goodness — the kind you might simply have to decide to believe in.
Egan is at his best sharing history. For those who want a refresher on the church in Europe, this is the book for you, with so many fascinating nuggets I had either forgotten or never knew ... Egan is an erudite author with a flair for catching the magic in his 10-week journey. His writing is thoughtful, expressive and visceral. He draws us in, making us feel frozen in the snow-covered Alps, joyful in valleys of trees with low-hanging fruit, skeptical of the relics of embalmed saints and hopeful for the healing of his encrusted toes, so worn and weathered from their walk ... Luckily Egan has the imagination to evoke the magic he once felt ... He lovingly describes the beauty of illustrated manuscripts, churches, stained-glass windows. But most compelling are the actions of kindness and love ... I was fascinated by the history and philosophy that Egan presents, and I appreciated him sharing his family’s personal history and the struggle they feel with the contemporary church. But Egan withholds from the reader his own inner workings, his own path to forgiveness ... Still, this book was a joy to read. Every page had a delightful turn of phrase, a scintillating description of a tempting dish, a town to visit, a church to see, a saint or sinner to read more about. Egan delved deep into history, theology and philosophy. His only reticence was about his own soul.
[Egan's] conclusions about his faith are best left to the reader, but here’s a critic’s opinion: A Pilgrimage to Eternity is one of Egan’s best books, a moving combination of history and memoir, travelogue and soul-searching, buoyed by Egan’s strengths as a writer: color and humor, a sense of wonder and a gift for getting to the point.