Barber attended Lady Eleanor Holles School. While undertaking her A-levels, Barber had a two-year relationship with a significantly older man, whom she knew as Simon Goldman, but who also called himself Simon Prewalski, an associate of Peter Rachman, who deceived both Barber and her parents; this affair was subsequently to provide the basis for a memoir by Barber and a movie (see Career below).
She read English Language and Literature at St Anne's College, Oxford. While at Oxford she was "briefly" the girlfriend of drug smuggler Howard Marks, but met David Maurice Cloudesley Cardiff, whom she married in 1971; they had two daughters. Cardiff died in August 2003.
In 2010, listeners to BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs heard Barber admit to sleeping with 'probably 50 men' during two terms at Oxford. "It was quite good going - I was just jamming them in," she said.
Barber worked for Penthouse magazine for seven years until 1974, being successively editorial assistant, literary editor, features editor and deputy editor; she left to have children. From 1982-89 she was a feature writer on the Sunday Express magazine and joined The Independent on Sunday in 1990. Barber has also written for Vanity Fair, The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Observer from 1996 to 2009. Best known for her interviews, she was once quoted by Will Self as describing her method as "start[ing] ... from a position of really disliking people, and then compel[ling] them to win you over." An interview with the conceptual artists Jake and Dinos Chapman was not a success: the Chapman Brothers have threatened to kill her if they ever meet again.
Barber has won six British press awards. Her books include two collections of interviews, Mostly Men and Demon Barber, a sex book How to Improve Your Man in Bed, and a survey of Victorian popular natural history writers, The Heyday of Natural History.
Barber's memoir of her teenage love affair, An Education, was published in June 2009. Its genesis was in a short piece on a similar theme that Barber wrote for British literary magazine Granta. Nick Hornby adapted this short article into a film of the same name, made by BBC Films and released in October 2009, and available on video from March 2010. In the meantime Barber had expanded the Granta article into her memoir; Hornby did not use Barber's book as source material for the film, just the Granta article.
It was announced in September 2009 that Barber would return to The Sunday Times later in the year writing for its magazine.
In July 2011, Barber was successfully sued by Sarah Thornton for libel and malicious falsehood over Barber's review of Seven Days in the Artworld that was published in The Daily Telegraph of 1 November 2008.
- Barber, Lynn (2009). An Education. London: Penguin Books. pp. 8 et seq. ISBN 978-0-14-103955-8.
- Barber, Lynn (7 June 2009). "My harsh lesson in love and life". The Observer. Retrieved 21 March 2010.
- Lynn Barber "Memoirs of a swot who went to pot", Daily Telegraph, 7 September 1996
- Hugh Cecil Obituary: David Cardiff, 27 August 2003
- Levy, Geoffrey (31 July 2010). "Lynn Barber the woman behind the film An Education has revealed she slept with 50 men in two terms at Oxford. She blamed a broken heart... but is that the real story?". Daily Mail.
- "Lynn Barber". Desert Island Discs. BBC. 10 October 2011. 26:45 - 27:50min
- Lynn Barber "Almost as many balls as breasts", The Observer, 21 January 2007
- Dennis Griffiths (ed.) The Encyclopedia of the British Press, 1492-1992, London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992, p.88
- Peter Ross "La Grande Dame inquisitor - The Interview: Lynn Barber", Sunday Herald, 25 March 2007, as reproduced on the Find Articles website
- Stephen Brook "Lynn Barber to leave Observer", The Guardian, 17 September 2009
- Will Self "Interview: The Doll Within", The Independent, 25 April 1999, accessed 21 December 2009.
- Lynn Barber "How I suffered for art's sake", The Observer, 1 October 2006, accessed 3 August 2008.
- Barber, Lynn (Summer 2003). "An Education". Granta 82: 203–223.
- Interview with Lynn Barber on BBC Radio 4's Front Row, 2 February 2010
- England and Wales High Court (Queen's Bench Division) Decisions accessed 22 March 2013
- "Telegraph refused appeal over Lynn Barber review libel". Press Gazette (Progressive Media International). 24 February 2012. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
- Press Gazette, Roll of Honour, accessed 30 July 2011