Abundant plant biomass has the potential to become a sustainable source of fuels and chemicals. Realizing this potential requires the economical conversion of recalcitrant lignocellulose into useful intermediates, such as sugars. We report a high-yielding chemical process for the hydrolysis of biomass into monosaccharides. Adding water gradually to a chloride ionic liquid-containing catalytic acid leads to a nearly 90% yield of glucose from cellulose and 70