Atherosclerosis, the formation of fibrofatty lesions in the artery wall, causes much morbidity and mortality worldwide, including most myocardial infarctions and many strokes, as well as disabling peripheral artery disease. Development of atherosclerotic lesions probably requires low-density lipoprotein, a particle that carries cholesterol through the blood. Other risk factors for atherosclerosis and its thrombotic complications include hypertension, cigarette smoking and diabetes mellitus. Increasing evidence also points to a role of the immune system, as emerging risk factors include inflammation and clonal haematopoiesis. Studies of the cell and molecular biology of atherogenesis have provided considerable insight into the mechanisms that link all these risk factors to atheroma development and the clinical manifestations of this disease. An array of diagnostic techniques, both invasive (such as selective coronary arteriography) and noninvasive (such as blood biomarkers, stress testing, CT and nuclear scanning), permit assessment of cardiovascular disease risk and targeting of therapies. An expanding armamentarium of therapies that can modify risk factors and confer clinical benefit is available; however, we face considerable challenge in providing equitable access to these treatments and in maximizing adherence. Yet, the clinical application of the fruits of research has advanced preventive strategies, enhanced clinical outcomes in affected individuals, and improved their quality of life. Rapidly accelerating knowledge and continued research promise to provide further progress in combating this common chronic disease.