Recent progress in our understanding of mitotic chromosome dynamics has been accelerated by the identification of two essential protein complexes, cohesin and condensin. Cohesin is required for holding sister chromatids (duplicated chromosomes) together from S phase until the metaphase-to-anaphase transition. Condensin is a central player in chromosome condensation, a process that initiates at the onset of mitosis. The main focus of this review is to discuss how the mitotic metaphase chromosome is assembled and shaped by a precise balance between the cohesion and condensation machineries. We argue that, in different eukaryotic organisms, the balance of cohesion and condensation is adjusted in such a way that the size and shape of the resulting chromosomes are best suited for their accurate segregation. BioEssays 23:924–935, 2001. © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.