This article presents a comprehendable and comprehensive physics-based approach for characterizing the strength of fiber-reinforced polymer composites. It begins with background information on the goals and attributes of this method. The article then addresses the characterization of fiber failures in laminates, because these are at the highest strengths that can be attained and, therefore, are usually the design objective. An exception would be if the design goal is to maximize energy absorption, rather than static strength. The discussion proceeds to situations in which the matrix fails first, either by intent, by design error, or because of impact damage. The state of the modeling propagation and arrest of matrix damage follows. Comparisons of this physics-based approach are then made to empirically based failure theories.