We present a consensus classification of life to embrace the more than 1.6 million species already provided by more than 3,000 taxonomists' expert opinions in a unified and coherent, hierarchically ranked system known as the Catalogue of Life (CoL). The intent of this collaborative effort is to provide a hierarchical classification serving not only the needs of the CoL's database providers but also the diverse public-domain user community, most of whom are familiar with the Linnaean conceptual system of ordering taxon relationships. This classification is neither phylogenetic nor evolutionary but instead represents a consensus view that accommodates taxonomic choices and practical compromises among diverse expert opinions, public usages, and conflicting evidence about the boundaries between taxa and the ranks of major taxa, including kingdoms. Certain key issues, some not fully resolved, are addressed in particular. Beyond its immediate use as a management tool for the CoL and ITIS (Integrated Taxonomic Information System), it is immediately valuable as a reference for taxonomic and biodiversity research, as a tool for societal communication, and as a classificatory "backbone" for biodiversity databases, museum collections, libraries, and textbooks. Such a modern comprehensive hierarchy has not previously existed at this level of specificity.