Evolution of the mammalian neocortex (isocortex) has been a persisting problem in neurobiology. While recent studies have attempted to understand the evolutionary expansion of the human neocortex from rodents, similar approaches have been used to study the changes between reptiles, birds, and mammals. We review here findings from the past decades on the development, organization, and gene expression patterns in various extant species. This review aims to compare cortical cell numbers and neuronal cell types to the elaboration of progenitor populations and their proliferation in these species. Several progenitors, such as the ventricular radial glia, the subventricular intermediate progenitors, and the subventricular (outer) radial glia, have been identified but the contribution of each to cortical layers and cell types through specific lineages, their possible roles in determining brain size or cortical folding, are not yet understood. Across species, larger, more diverse progenitors relate to cortical size and cell diversity. The challenge is to relate the radial and tangential expansion of the neocortex to the changes in the proliferative compartments during mammalian evolution and with the changes in gene expression and lineages evident in various sectors of the developing brain. We also review the use of recent lineage tracing and transcriptomic approaches to revisit theories and to provide novel understanding of molecular processes involved in specification of cortical regions. J. Comp. Neurol. 524:630–645, 2016. © 2015 The Authors. The Journal of Comparative Neurology Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.