In 1494 the first prime meridian was drawn through the Azores islands by the crowns of Portugal and Castile under the terms of the Treaty of Tordesillas, as the two kingdoms wrangled over possession of the globe in the aftermath of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America. This artificial division of the earth became a feature of the subsequent trading of territories between rival kingdoms. By 1884, as a result of the British Empire's commercial pre-eminence, the globe's prime meridian was definitively drawn through Greenwich. By 1938 the line two degrees west was chosen as England's prime meridian running as it did through most of the country, from Berwick-Upon-Tweed on the Northumbrian coast to the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset.
Guided by his Ordnance Survey map, Nicholas Crane's book Two Degrees West walks the longitudinal tightrope of this most manmade of geographical lines, stretching nearly 600 kilometres from north to south, never deviating more than a few metres either side of the meridian. The result is a diverse cross-section of England in the late 1990s, from the bleak agrarian world of Northumbria and the Pennines to the racial and urban hybridity of the Black Country. Two Degrees West is an idiosyncratic, offbeat travel book, offering a unique view on the state of the nation at the end of the 1990s. --Jerry Brotton, author of Trading Territories: Mapping the Early Modern World