Rechargeable solid-state batteries have long been considered an attractive power source for a wide variety of applications, and in particular, lithium-ion batteries are emerging as the technology of choice for portable electronics. One of the main challenges in the design of these batteries is to ensure that the electrodes maintain their integrity over many discharge-recharge cycles. Although promising electrode systems have recently been proposed, their lifespans are limited by Li-alloying agglomeration or the growth of passivation layers, which prevent the fully reversible insertion of Li ions into the negative electrodes. Here we report that electrodes made of nanoparticles of transition-metal oxides (MO, where M is Co, Ni, Cu or Fe) demonstrate electrochemical capacities of 700 mA h g(-1), with 100% capacity retention for up to 100 cycles and high recharging rates. The mechanism of Li reactivity differs from the classical Li insertion/deinsertion or Li-alloying processes, and involves the formation and decomposition of Li2O, accompanying the reduction and oxidation of metal nanoparticles (in the range 1-5 nanometres) respectively. We expect that the use of transition-metal nanoparticles to enhance surface electrochemical reactivity will lead to further improvements in the performance of lithium-ion batteries.