In the Middle of Difficulty Lies Opportunity

Albert Einstein? John Archibald Wheeler? A. P. Barton? Bertram Carr? Mirjana R. Gearhart? H. Jackson Brown Jr.? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Everyone experiences challenges and difficulties. Happily, while surmounting these obstacles it is often possible to glimpse wonderful possibilities for the future. Here is a pertinent saying:

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

This phrase has often been attributed to the famous scientist Albert Einstein. Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The attribution to Einstein is spurious. The saying appears in a section titled “Misattributed to Einstein” in “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

The phrase can be traced back to John Archibald Wheeler, a prominent U.S. theoretical physicist whose research included work on general relativity and quantum information. Wheeler stated that he discussed physics with Albert Einstein “from time to time over a span of 21 years”. Wheeler published a piece about Einstein in “Newsweek” magazine in 1979. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

There were three additional rules of Einstein’s work that stand out for use in our science, our problems, and our times. First, out of clutter find simplicity. Second, from discord make harmony. Third, in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

The quotation under examination appeared as the third rule above, but these rules were written by Wheeler and not by Einstein. Wheeler was describing his reaction to Einstein’s’ efforts and accomplishments. Thus, this precise formulation may be attributed to Wheeler; however, the idea being communicated by the quotation has a long history.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading In the Middle of Difficulty Lies Opportunity

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Misattributed to Einstein, Quote Page 480, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1979 March 12, Newsweek, Volume 93, Issue 11, The Outsider by John Archibald Wheeler, Start Page 67, Quote Page 67, Column 1, Newsweek, New York. (ProQuest)