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Forty Autumns Book Cover


Academic Guide

For Teachers

Forty Autumns is currently being used to teach Cold War history and politics at U.S. high schools and colleges including University of Washington. For more information, see below.


HarperAcademic Calling Podcast


An instructional guide to Cold War history.

To use Forty Autumns to teach Cold War history, HarperCollins William Morrow has published a comprehensive academic guide. Watch the video and download the guide.


Stephanie Schragger, St. Ann’s School, History Teacher, High School, Brooklyn, NY:

Forty Autumns captures the experience of the Cold War in East Germany and the United States, told through the eyes of one family. It provides an accessible and readable way to teach students about the events of the Cold War, as well as the human cost of the astoundingly destructive and oppressive regime in East Germany.

Students can read this book as they learn about American and European history from World War II to the present, and the book clearly delineates the major world events. Moreover, the timeline at the start of the book connects the family’s story to the broader Cold War.

Overall, this book provides an excellent teaching tool, as it both humanizes the Cold War and offers a window into East Germany, which was for so long a deeply oppressive and extremely secret society. Students can learn about the reality of communism, the creation of a police state, and the dangers that Westerners faced as late as the 1980s in East Germany.

Each chapter has discussion questions intended to provoke discussion or inspire writing assignments. There is a separate section with possible writing and research projects, and a list of suggested readings and websites to assist with the study of the Cold War.


Forty Autumns is currently being used to teach Cold War history and politics at U.S. high schools and colleges including University of Washington.

Here’s what educators are saying:

Emily Shapero, Wellesley High School, Social Studies Teacher of World and Modern World History (Wellesley, MA):
“Forty Autumns takes larger political and historical moments and makes them personal, tangible, and real for students. By contextualizing her family’s tale with the history of authoritarianism in post-WWII Europe, Willner provides an important lesson about the impact of global politics on the individual experiences of human beings. My students have shared how Forty Autumns has made history come alive in a way that textbooks, lectures, and other traditional resources cannot.”

Scott M. Petri, PhD, John F. Kennedy Medical Magnet School, History Teacher (CA):
“Forty Autumns connects with history students and helps them generate historical empathy, or what James Percoco would call a passion for the past. As a teacher, I long to inspire my students to develop a desire to learn about History. With California’s numerous and rigorous History-Social Science content standards, this is not always easy, but with Forty Autumns, Ms. Willner has already done the hard work for me.”

Here’s what Amazon and Goodreads educators and readers are saying:

“A very accessible topline history of the Cold War.”
“Gives the reader a feeling of being a part of history. A compelling look at the effects of communism in a country on personal freedom, on the family, education, economics and on every aspect of life. It should be read in schools in the USA today.”
“I teach history and the Cold War… Read. This. Book.”
“If I was still teaching, I would assign this book to my students to explain the Cold War experience in Europe.”
“Riveting real-life story that should be required reading in every high school in America and every democratic country!”
“Should be required reading for high school and college kids.”
“Forty Autumns should be required reading for any student of 20th century history.”

To order Forty Autumns for your classroom, please contact Kelly Rudolph at [email protected]