Carbonaceous aerosols (CA) emitted by fossil and biomass fuels consist of black carbon (BC), a strong absorber of solar radiation, and organic matter (OM). OM scatters as well as absorbs solar radiation. The absorbing component of OM, which is ignored in most climate models, is referred to as brown carbon (BrC). Model estimates of the global CA radiative forcing range from 0 to 0.7 Wm-2, to be compared with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's estimate for the pre-Industrial to the present net radiative forcing of about 1.6 Wm-2. This study provides a model-independent, observationally based estimate of the CA direct radiative forcing. Ground-based aerosol network data is integrated with field data and satellite-based aerosol observations to provide a decadal (2001 through 2009) global view of the CA optical properties and direct radiative forcing. The estimated global CA direct radiative effect is about 0.75 Wm-2 (0.5 to 1.0). This study identifies the global importance of BrC, which is shown to contribute about 20% to 550-nm CA solar absorption globally. Because of the inclusion of BrC, the net effect of OM is close to zero and the CA forcing is nearly equal to that of BC. The CA direct radiative forcing is estimated to be about 0.65 (0.5 to about 0.8) Wm-2, thus comparable to or exceeding that by methane. Caused in part by BrC absorption, CAs have a net warming effect even over open biomass-burning regions in Africa and the Amazon.