The Last Equation of Isaac Severy


515uNP74klL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_I picked up three books from the library the other day when I was already in the middle of a book I had bought, but when I was ready for the next book, this was the one. What a treat! A debut novel, it sets a high bar for Nova Jacobs’ future work. Once I started reading, I blew off all other activities on a beautiful summer day and read the whole thing in one sitting. It is a mystery that starts with the apparent suicide of Isaac Severy, a renowned mathematician, and professor at the Sloan Laboratory of Mathematics and Physics at California Institute of Technology. As the family gathers for his funeral, we learn that one of them received a letter from Isaac written the day before his death, the first of many secrets to be revealed. We quickly learn that the equation is so very valuable, extreme measures must be taken to protect it. There were twists and turns, and things I didn’t figure out, but the characters were compelling and the family drama felt real. There’s even a transgender character. Well done, Nova Jacobs.

THE BEAUTY: Well, it had to be the math, but I’m so math-challenged, I have no way of approaching its beauty, but I’m guessing it’s something akin to reading the Aeneid in Latin, which is also something I can’t do! So I wrote down Mandelbrot from the book, and in researching it, found that there is also a twice-baked cookie called Mandelbrot. Food, I get. Fractal geometry- not so much. A little aside here, my mother had a meeting with my sophomore geometry teacher a million years ago, concerned that I wasn’t doing well. She wanted to take me out of drama and put me after school for one-on-one time with this teacher. In his infinite wisdom, Mr. Trout told her, “Don’t take her out of what she’s good at. We’ll work around drama, and she will pass geometry.” God bless you, Mr. Trout! So, back to the Mandelbrot set. The word fractal was first used by Benoit Mandelbrot and it has something to do with chaos theory which says that a chaotic system will either emerge or collapse. Fractals are a geometric thing that always have the same shape whether you look at them close up or from far away. That’s about as far as I can take it. The image below is from Wikipedia and shows a Mandelbrot set.

The video version was too big a file, but if you google it, you’ll see the zoom in close- up that goes on for quite awhile. I certainly hope no mathematician reads this post, although if one does, and you can expand my fractal knowledge in “Fractal for Dummies” language, have at it.


My husband has a lot of influence on this part of my blog and I frequently give him choices, as I did for this one. Me: If you had to choose between a pastrami sandwich and biscotti, which would you prefer? Him: No contest. Pastrami.

The connection to the book is, Gregory invited his sister Hazel to lunch at Langer’s Delicatessen in LA, and they are famous for their pastrami.  I googled to find out that Langers gets their pastrami from RC Provisions. Unfortunately, the quantity I would have had to order was so large, we’d never have been able to eat it all. So, instead, I went to several local markets on the hunt for the best pastrami. Boar’s Head was the one I chose for this, but next time, I’d have it cut thinner and I’d get the wider cut.

Langer’s Original No. 19 Hot Pastrami Sandwich
Makes 4 sandwiches

8 slices seeded rye bread
2 lbs pastrami cut into ¼ inch slices
4 T Russian dressing (recipe follows)
4 slices Swiss cheese
1 C coleslaw (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 300º F. Wrap the bread in aluminum foil; bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the bread is warmed through.

Meanwhile, to steam the pastrami, bring a pot of water fitted with a steamer basket to a boil. Wrap the pastrami in aluminum foil and place in the basket; cover and allow to steam for 15 to 20 minutes, until all the slices are thoroughly heated.

To assemble each sandwich, spread Russian dressing on one slice of warm rye bread. Add ½ pound of hot pastrami to the same slice, overlaying the Russian dressing. Top the hot pastrami with 1 slice of Swiss cheese and ½ cup coleslaw. Spread Russian dressing on the other slice of rye bread and place it on the sandwich. Slice in half. Garnish with the pickle of your choice.

Russian Dressing
Makes about 2 cups

1 C mayonnaise
1 C sweet pickle relish
¼ C ketchup
1½ T  buttermilk

In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, relish, ketchup and buttermilk. The dressing can be made in advance. Leftovers will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

Makes about 6 cups

1¼ C mayonnaise
½ C sour cream
¼ C plus 2 T granulated sugar
1 T white vinegar
2 tsp salt
¼ C water
1 small head cabbage, shredded (about 2 pounds)
½ red bell pepper, julienned
½ carrot, julienned

Whisk the mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar, vinegar, salt and water in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise mixture with the cabbage, bell pepper and carrot and stir to combine. The coleslaw can be made up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated.



This was quite delicious. I made the Russian dressing and the cole slaw the day before I was going to serve. Assembling the sandwiches and warming everything took about 20-25 minutes, so plan accordingly. The bread I used was a bit too dense, but still tasty. With good pastrami and good seeded rye, this is worth the effort, although, by all accounts, Langer’s #19 Pastrami Sandwich is somewhere this side of heaven.

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