This paper presents a novel framework for the recognition of objects based on their silhouettes. The main idea is to measure the distance between two shapes as the minimum extent of deformation necessary for one shape to match the other. Since the space of deformations is very high-dimensional, three steps are taken to make the search practical: 1) define an equivalence class for shapes based on shock-graph topology, 2) define an equivalence class for deformation paths based on shock-graph transitions, and 3) avoid complexity-increasing deformation paths by moving toward shock-graph degeneracy. Despite these steps, which tremendously reduce the search requirement, there still remain numerous deformation paths to consider. To that end, we employ an edit-distance algorithm for shock graphs that finds the optimal deformation path in polynomial time. The proposed approach gives intuitive correspondences for a variety of shapes and is robust in the presence of a wide range of visual transformations. The recognition rates on two distinct databases of 99 and 216 shapes each indicate highly successful within category matches (100 percent in top three matches), which render the framework potentially usable in a range of shape-based recognition applications.