The aim of this critical review is to provide a broad but digestible overview of mechanochemical synthesis, i.e. reactions conducted by grinding solid reactants together with no or minimal solvent. Although mechanochemistry has historically been a sideline approach to synthesis it may soon move into the mainstream because it is increasingly apparent that it can be practical, and even advantageous, and because of the opportunities it provides for developing more sustainable methods. Concentrating on recent advances, this article covers industrial aspects, inorganic materials, organic synthesis, cocrystallisation, pharmaceutical aspects, metal complexes (including metal–organic frameworks), supramolecular aspects and characterization methods. The historical development, mechanistic aspects, limitations and opportunities are also discussed (314 references).