Silicon nitride has been researched intensively, largely in response to the challenge to develop internal combustion engines with hot-zone components made entirely from ceramics. The ceramic engine programs have had only partial success, but this research effort has succeeded in generating a degree of understanding of silicon nitride and of its processing and properties, which in many respects is more advanced than of more widely used technical ceramics. This review examines from the historical standpoint the development of silicon nitride and of its processing into a range of high-grade ceramic materials. The development of understanding of microstructure–property relationships in the silicon nitride materials is also surveyed. Because silicon nitride has close relationships with the SiAlON group of materials, it is impossible to discuss the one without some reference to the other, and a brief mention of the development of the SiAlONs is included for completeness.