In this talk, I present a comprehensive picture of the life cycles of globular star clusters, from their formation in interstellar clouds to their dissolution in the galactic field stellar population. The mass function of clusters (number of clusters per interval of mass) plays a fundamental role in this picture, much as the stellar mass function plays a fundamental role in the theory of star formation. Our new picture is based on recent observations, mainly with HST, of systems of young star clusters in nearby galaxies, and on several recent theoretical studies. This picture links globular clusters to other types of star clusters (open, populous, etc); in fact it is based largely on the idea these objects span a continuum and formed by similar if not the same physical processes.
Received December 6, 2007