Apoptosis has become a major research area in the biomedical sciences. As there are more than 13,000 papers published annually on the topic, it is impossible to keep track on all developments in the area. The individual aspects of molecular control of apoptosis are well reviewed, but more general, introductory recent reviews into the field are lacking. This review aims to give a brief overview of the field, providing an introduction into the literature for students and newcomers; as it is written for the un-initiated, wherever possible, review articles will be cited rather than original papers. BioEssays 25:888–896, 2003. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.