The response of four cubic metals to shock loading is reviewed in order to understand the effects of microstructure on continuum response. Experiments are described that link defect generation and storage mechanisms at the mesoscale to observations in the bulk. Four materials were reviewed; these were fcc nickel, the ordered fcc intermetallic Ni3 Al, the bcc metal tantalum, and two alloys based on the intermetallic phase TiAl; Ti-46.5Al-2Cr-2Nb and Ti-48Al-2Cr-2Nb-1B. The experiments described are in two groups: first, equation of state and shear strength measurements using Manganin stress gauges and, second, postshock microstructural examinations and measurement of changes in mechanical properties. The behaviors described are linked through the description of time dependent plasticity mechanisms to the final states achieved. Recovered targets displayed dislocation microstructures illustrating processes active during the shock-loading process. Reloading of previously shock-prestrained samples illustrated shock strengthening for the fcc metals Ni and Ni3 Al while showing no such effect for bcc Ta and for the intermetallic TiAl. This difference in effective shock hardening has been related, on the one hand, to the fact that bcc metals have fewer available slip systems that can operate than fcc crystals and to the observation that the lower symmetry materials (Ta and TiAl) both possess high Peierls stress and thus have higher resistances to defect motion in the lattice under shock-loading conditions. These behaviors, compared between these four materials, illustrate the role of defect generation, transport, storage, and interaction in determining the response of materials to shock prestraining. © 2009 Crown Copyright.