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The USA is the world’s third largest country and contains a wide variety of terrain types. There are the near-barren deserts and semi-deserts of the South-West and the sub-tropical swamplands of the Deep South. There is the seemingly endless grassland of the Great Plain, and the stunning, vertiginous Hawaiian Islands. There are the icebound landscapes of Alaska, and visually dramatic but climatically temperate southern California.
Politically, the USA is divided into 50 states and one district. These states can be grouped into six large regions, as detailed in the following paragraphs.
The North-east comprises New England and three states to the west. Boston is the largest city in New England, is an important centre for education, innovation and technology, as well as being a major port. Though New England’s cities are bustling, the small towns are genteel and elegant.
New York, the largest city in the USA, is the world’s premier financial centre and contains important international buildings such as the United Nations Headquarters. New York vies with London for the title of most cosmopolitan city in the world and is a centre of cultural innovation and style.
The South-eastern area of the country generally corresponds to the area known as The South. These are the states which seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America during the 1861-65 Civil War. These states retain their own sense of identity, in their easy-going lifestyle, their cuisine and their music, especially in the cities of Memphis, Nashville and New Orleans. The climate in much of this area is hot and humid in the summer and mild in winter. Florida’s climate is particularly clement.
The South also includes Texas, which is important for its oil industry and has a rapidly-growing economy, though also a great disparity between rich and poor. Houston is the largest city, and is a major centre for oil exploitation and the major US port on the Gulf of Mexico.
The Midwest, as the north-central part of the country is called, includes the states around the Great Lakes. This area contains the ‘Rust Belt’, an area of decaying industry and declining influence. Cities typical of this are Detroit and Cleveland. Chicago, on Lake Michigan, is the USA’s third city, and is a major financial centre and base for international companies. Further west are the states of the Great Plain, also known as the Heartland. This is a very large area with no large cities, known for its agricultural produce.
The Rocky Mountain States are sparsely populated but contain some breathtaking scenery. They extend from the cold Canadian border down to the very hot South-western desert. Incongruously set in this desert is Las Vegas, home to many glamorous (and very wealthy) casinos. The largest city in the Mountain region is Denver, which chiefly acts as an entrepôt between East and West, and also features several federal agencies.
The Pacific region includes the West coast states, which contain some spectacular scenery. Los Angeles, the USA’s second city, is where you will find Hollywood, the world’s most celebrated film industry. San Francisco is an unconventional city, an important cultural centre and a major tourist destination.
There are two states that are not part of the Continental USA. Alaska lies partly in the Arctic Circle. Though it dwarfs the second-largest state (Texas), Alaska contains fewer than 800,000 people. Hawaii is an archipelago in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and originally populated by Hawaiian people. It became a US state in 1959.
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