The advantage of being useless

The Advantage of Being Useless, by George Sweet is one of my favourite books. The headlining tale is one of Chung Tzu’s goodies:

A sage, in rambling about the heights of Shang, saw a large and
extraordinary tree. The teams of a thousand chariots might be sheltered
under it , and its shade would cover them all! Said the sage, “What a
tree this is! It must contain an extraordinary amount of timber!”

The sage looked up at the smaller branches and saw they were so twisted
and crooked that they could not be made in rafters and beams. At the
roots its stem was divided into so many rounded potions that neither
coffins nor shell could be made from them. Licking one of the leaves
left the mouth feeling torn and wounded. The small of it would make one
frantic, as if intoxicate, for three whole days together.

“This indeed is a tree good for nothing, and it is thus that it has
reach so great an age.”

The cinnamon tree can be eaten, and there is cut down.
The varnish tree is useful, and therefore incisions are made in it.

All know the advantage of being useful, but no one knows the advantage
of being useless.

– Chuang Tzu.


  1. Deepesh Faucheaux Said,

    May 28, 2005 @ 5:42 am

    This is a great book. Where can I get it?

  2. Nicholas Lee Said,

    May 28, 2005 @ 11:33 am

    I first read this book from a library in 1993, it was OP so I couldn’t find a copy for myself. I happened to discovered a republished version of this in a bookstore in 1997. I just called that bookstore and they don’t have it in their records and its OP again. I suggest writing or calling the pubisher, Dunmore Press Ltd, and asking for permission to photocopy it for your students. According to the White Pages they are now at PO Box 55008, Mission Bay, Auckland, New Zealand, +64-9-521-6042. I’ll send you some other details via email. Looks like they also have a website:

    PS: Comments to blog entries over 7 days old are automatically put into moderation. Helps reduce comment spam.

  3. Deepesh Faucheaux Said,

    May 28, 2005 @ 5:47 pm

    Is the comment, "Your comment is awaiting moderation" a response to mine that this is a "great" book? (It's only American idiom.) Or is that an automated response that means something else entirely?
    I have had a number of requests for the book in my workshops and courses, received one only yesterday and decided to try to find it. Any suggestions? I don't feel good about photocopying it, but wouldn't that be btter thn letting it disappear into obcurity?

  4. evelyn davis Said,

    September 12, 2011 @ 8:35 pm

    hello deepesh, you rather lovely gorgeous man. i wonder if you remember me? My children went to the Steiner school at mana and i i used to see you as a client (me, that is) in the house up the hill from Pip and Tony's place at manaia in Coromandel. Evelyn is my name. i loved your work. i see Roger Myzscliewicz these days . another loveable man. i think George Sweet is a New Zealander. i am sure you have found a copy by now. lots of love from Evelyn .

  5. Roger Bullock Said,

    July 14, 2005 @ 5:54 pm

    Check here for a copy in good condition:

  6. melissa Said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 10:55 pm

    its a great book i have it

  7. Grant Said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 7:07 am

    Hi Melissa, I would love to have a read of The Advantage of being USeless, if you want to lend or sell your copy give me a text 021 038 0131 thanks, Grant

  8. Nicholas Lee Said,

    March 23, 2010 @ 6:40 am

    If you are in Auckland you can borrow it from the library.

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