Published in the United States in January 2000, the book became a New York Times bestseller, and went on to sell over two million copies in thirty-six languages. In 2001 Plume Press released the paperback edition with an initial print-run of 120,000 copies; a year later the book had been reprinted 18 times with close to 2 million copies sold. Over three millions copies have been sold in 36 languages, as of September 2008.
Richard Eder of The New York Times described the work as a "brainy novel whose passion is ideas", and the prepublication review in Time notes the fullness of the characters. Atlantic Monthly praised Chevalier's effort "in creating the feel of a society with sharp divisions in status and creed", in describing Protestant Griet joining the household of the Catholic Vermeers.