Several shelves in Susan Easton Black’s office are lined with books she has written in her prolific career. Most focus on research related to the life of Joseph Smith and the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The retired BYU professor, author and lecturer waves her hand toward a section of books with blue covers. “All those blue books, it’s the early membership of the church,” she said, “everybody who had known Joseph Smith, alphabetically.”

Next, Black points to a section of books with black covers — “Everybody who bought property during Joseph’s time.”

Another collection of books lists every member who performed baptisms for the dead in the Nauvoo era.

And in yet another set of volumes, Black has traced the life histories of early members of the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

But these shelves don’t include all the commercial books she’s written about Joseph Smith.

“I’m about 170 books,” Black told the Deseret News before cracking a joke. “I said to my husband, ‘If you were more fun, I wouldn’t do this.’”

“But I had fun,” Black said, serious again. “I look forward to meeting all of them one day, perhaps soon.”

Now Black has added another book to her long list, “Joseph & Brigham: An Eternal Bond,” which examines the private friendship between Joseph Smith and his Latter-day Saint successor, Brigham Young.

She’s been busy. The release of “Joseph & Brigham” comes shortly after Black co-authored “Anxiously Engaged: A Biography of M. Russell Ballard.”

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With the release of “Joseph & Brigham,” Black sat down with the Deseret News to discuss how she discovered her fascination with Joseph Smith and her passion for church history.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Deseret News: When did you first become interested in Joseph Smith?

Susan Easton Black: I grew up in Long Beach, California. A grandmother lived with us and her mother crossed the plains. Her job was to put me to sleep at night. I wanted to hear stories about Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. But she would say, “I can only tell you things that are true.” So she would tell me about Joseph Smith. As a young kid, I thought Joseph Smith was phenomenal, even growing up in a place where there were few Latter-day Saint kids my age.

My grandmother died just before I came to college, and I was fortunate to register for a class with Milton Backman (a historian and BYU professor who died in 2016). He knew the same stories as my grandmother knew, but he could tell me where to find them in the library. I was just overwhelmed and went on a church history tour with him in the summer. Once I saw Nauvoo, Illinois, I was never the same.

I eventually got my doctorate and started teaching at BYU. Then they didn’t have any women teaching religion. Suddenly, Dallin H. Oaks is the president of the university. Growing up in the home of a single parent, he decided he was going to look through each of the colleges at the university and see if they had a woman teaching. He looked at religion and noticed they didn’t have one. At that point, I was teaching family science and finance. I’m asked if I would like to switch to religion? I’m like, “No way. I do not want to be a fireside queen.” President Oaks then asked President Spencer W. Kimball, who was the prophet. I said, “If he says yes, I’ll make the move.” He did, so I made the move. I was in religion from 1981 to 2013, when I retired. My consistent subject was always Joseph Smith.

How could I possibly keep teaching the same thing? If I were to get another semester, I would get so geared up. Even now I teach with the BYU Pathway-Worldwide program and institute at Utah Valley University. And you’ll never guess what subject? I get to teach Joseph Smith. I have just never gotten over what a great man he was.

Susan Easton Black is the author of “Joseph and Brigham: An Eternal Bond.”
Susan Easton Black is the author of “Joseph and Brigham: An Eternal Bond.” | Aspen Books

DN: What drives you to keep studying Joseph Smith’s life?

SEB: There are so many things I like about Joseph, but consistently, he is so forgiving. In a time period where enemies abounded, he’s forgiving of his followers, his friends and his foes. I think it’s an amazing trait.

I never get over how he’s such a pure shaft that the Lord can reveal to him from 1820 until the end of his life.

He never denies (the gospel). Because of what I’ve learned about Joseph Smith, I’ve been able to know more about Jesus Christ. I’ve been able to learn more about the Old Testament and the New Testament, different eras, because of insights he’s received through revelation.

Light my hair on fire, pull out my fingernails, I’d have to say he is a prophet. You’ve got all these people now that are saying, “Hey, I’m leaving the church because I have so many questions.” I go, “What? Not me. Look behind me (gesturing to shelves of books), I found so many answers. I can’t be that dumb. I’m sticking in.

DN: How do you respond to critics of Joseph or Brigham?

SEB: Anytime we are quick to criticize it’s because we don’t know all the facts. I view it as sloppy scholarship on (the critic’s) part. In many cases, they delete faith and delete revelation to be able to come up with their conclusion. In the case of Joseph or Brigham, you can’t possibly do that and know the men you are talking about. Truth has to edify.

I’ve had a few occasions where they have found me. Although you would say, “Oh my gosh. She’s a lady. She’s old. What the heck does she know?” I don’t know if you can ever change someone’s mind. But I think if you can throw in some truth occasionally along the way, they will have occasion to reevaluate your stance.

DN: What are some insights you have learned about Joseph and Brigham?

SEB: Readers will find out that the Lord is first and foremost in both men’s lives. 

Susan Easton Black is the author of “Joseph and Brigham: An Eternal Bond.”
Susan Easton Black is the author of “Joseph and Brigham: An Eternal Bond.” | Aspen Books

Joseph doesn’t hesitate to reprimand Brigham. Maybe you can look at that as a mom. Who is going to get my reprimands first? It’s going to be my kids, right? But it doesn’t mean you love them any less. Maybe you love them more because you want something better for them.

You do see that happening between Joseph and Brigham, but you get Brigham saying, “I feel like shouting hallelujah to think I even got to know Joseph Smith, let alone walk with him,” such as with Zion’s Camp.

Brigham never oversteps Joseph, even after Joseph passes. Joseph had the revelation to go west, Brigham carried it out. Joseph established settlements in Missouri and Illinois, Brigham of course expands on that in Salt Lake. Temple began in Kirtland, Ohio, Brigham expands on that as he comes out west.

At the very end of his life, Brigham’s last words were, “Joseph, Joseph, Joseph.” So the bond between the men was unbreakable.