Continued fractions reveal the good, the bad and the beautiful side of numbers.
Dan Brown in his book, The Da Vinci Code, talks about the "divine proportion" as having a "fundamental role in nature". Brown's ideas are not completely without foundation, as the proportion crops up in the mathematics used to describe the formation of natural structures like snail's shells and plants, and even in Alan Turing's work on animal coats. But Dan Brown does not talk about mathematics, he talks about a number. What is so special about this number?
One of the most striking and powerful means of presenting numbers is completely ignored in the mathematics that is taught in schools, and it rarely makes an appearance in university courses. Yet the continued fraction is one of the most revealing representations of many numbers, sometimes containing extraordinary patterns and symmetries. John D. Barrow explains.