Every so often, the publication of a book functions as a milestone in a particular area of study. The book is recognized either as the first, most comprehensive, or most distinctive treatment of a subject, with which all later researchers will need to familiarize themselves in order to be considered credible. When it comes to the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Italy, Mormons in the Piazza is such a book, and for all three of these reasons. James Toronto, BYU professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies; Eric Dursteler, BYU professor of history and chair of the same department; and Michael Homer, attorney, independent historian, and honorary Italian Consul in Salt Lake City, have produced a volume that is rigorously researched, beautifully written, and nicely illustrated. It is certainly a first in its area, since no comparable publication of this size is available in the English language. It is also the most comprehensive treatment on the presence of the LDS Church in Italy, ranging from the day the first missionary set foot on Italian soil to the recent announcement of the Rome temple’s construction. Finally, it is distinctive in being both broadly accessible and academically solid, a combination that is difficult for any writer to achieve. It brings engaging historical narrative, cultural contextualization, and firsthand observation and analysis into one coherent picture that captures the reader’s interest at both affective and intellectual levels.
The authors served LDS missions in Italy (Toronto also served a second time as president of the Catania mission) and are conversant in Italian, which allowed them to access and interpret the many archival, primary, and secondary sources in Italian that appear in the rich bibliography. Furthermore, their friendship or acquaintance with Church members and leaders likely facilitated opportunities for interviews, discussions, and the frank sharing of experiences that fill the later chapters of the book. The narrative centers around places, people, and events that are familiar to those who have served missions in Italy, have lived in Italy as LDS members of the U.S. military, or are Italian Latter-day Saints. These groups will undoubtedly represent the bulk of the book’s readership, but the volume’s contribution to Mormon missiology at large is not to be underestimated. Toronto, Dursteler, and Homer raise questions, draw connections, and analyze patterns that will trigger attentiveness and reflections in those who do not necessarily share a direct interest in Italy, but whose focus may be the general history of the Church or LDS missionary work in a different area of the world. Indeed, the authors spend significant time examining the factors, both internal and external to the Church, that may facilitate or hinder growth in “the mission field.” They also do not hesitate to highlight potential conflicts that emerge when American cultural expectations meet their foreign counterparts.