Barbery entered the École Normale Supérieure de Fontenay-Saint-Cloud in 1990 and obtained her agrégation in philosophy in 1993. She then taught philosophy at the Université de Bourgogne, in a lycée, and at the Saint-Lô IUFM.
Her novel L'Élégance du hérisson (translated into English as "The Elegance of the Hedgehog") topped the French best-seller lists for 30 consecutive weeks and, reprinted 50 times, had by May 2008 sold more than a million copies. Her first novel, Une Gourmandise, appeared in English translation as "Gourmet Rhapsody" in 2009.
Barbery currently lives in Japan, where she is composing her third novel.