Caspases are proteases at the heart of networks that govern apoptosis and inflammation. The past decade has seen huge leaps in understanding the biology and chemistry of the caspases, largely through the development of synthetic substrates and inhibitors. Such agents are used to define the role of caspases in transmitting life and death signals, in imaging caspases in situ and in vivo, and in deconvoluting the networks that govern cell behavior. Additionally, focused proteomics methods have begun to reveal the natural substrates of caspases in the thousands. Together, these chemical and proteomics technologies are setting the scene for designing and implementing control of caspase activity as appropriate targets for disease therapy.