Quasinormal modes are eigenmodes of dissipative systems. Perturbations of classical gravitational backgrounds involving black holes or branes naturally lead to quasinormal modes. The analysis and classification of the quasinormal spectra requires solving non-Hermitian eigenvalue problems for the associated linear differential equations. Within the recently developed gauge-gravity duality, these modes serve as an important tool for determining the near-equilibrium properties of strongly coupled quantum field theories, in particular their transport coefficients, such as viscosity, conductivity and diffusion constants. In astrophysics, the detection of quasinormal modes in gravitational wave experiments would allow precise measurements of the mass and spin of black holes as well as new tests of general relativity. This review is meant as an introduction to the subject, with a focus on the recent developments in the field.