Perrin was born on September 18, 1927, in New York City and grew up in Pelham Manor, New York His parents both worked as advertising copywriters at the J. Walter Thompson Agency. His mother, Blanche Chenery Perrin, was a career writer and the author of several novels. Perrin's mother was his inspiration to become a writer.
Perrin was educated at the Woodberry Forest School in Orange, Virginia, and later at Williams College, where he majored in English Literature and graduated in 1949. He received a master's degree from Duke University in 1950, then served in the United States Army. During the Korean War he served as a forward observer in a field artillery unit and was awarded the Bronze Star.
Teaching and writing career
During the 1950s, Perrin taught English Literature at the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina (1956–1959). Perrin further studied at Cambridge University, where he received a Master's of Literature degree in 1958.
Perrin joined the Dartmouth faculty in 1959 as an instructor in English, reaching the rank of full professor by 1970. He specialized in teaching modern poetry, particularly that of Robert Frost. He was a Fulbright professor at Warsaw University in Poland in 1970, and was twice a Guggenheim Fellow. He joined Dartmouth's Environmental Studies Program in 1984 as an Adjunct Professor, teaching courses on a range of subjects. 
He wrote essays for many publications and was a regular contributor to the Washington Post for more than 20 years, covering a wide variety of subjects. His Washington Post essays later were published as A Reader's Delight (1988), one of his 12 books. Mr. Perrin's later Washington Post columns about forgotten works of children's literature were collected in the book A Child's Delight (1997).
His second book, Dr. Bowdler's Legacy: A History of Expurgated Books in England and America (1969), was nominated for the National Book Award. His sixth book was Giving up the Gun: Japan's Reversion to the Sword, 1543–1879.
In 1963 Perrin bought a farm in Thetford Center, Vermont, which served him as home and grist for six books, including First Person Rural: Essays of a Sometime Farmer (1978). Perrin often wrote essays about rural life in a similar fashion as Will Carleton did with his poems. "He reveled in the rural life," said writer Reeve Lindbergh, whose sister Anne Spencer Lindbergh, elder daughter of Charles Lindbergh, was Perrin's third wife. "He was a fresh and unexpected, ethical, humane and charming voice for northern New England." Noel Perrin's second of his four books of essays on the practice and philosophy of country living, Second Person Rural (1980), provided practical advice for the "sometime" farmer. Perrin discussed how to use a peavey, what to do with maple syrup (besides pouring it over waffles), and how to replace a rototiller with a garden animal.
Interest in environmental matters
Perrin's interest in environmental matters, including alternative energy sources, led him to purchase an electric car in 1990. He recounted his adventures driving his converted Ford Escort from the builder in California home to Vermont in Solo: Life with an Electric Car (1992). One advantage of the car proved to be a rare reserved parking spot on campus—with its own electrical outlet. Perrin later put a solar panel array on his barn roof.
Perrin once wrote to a friend: "I currently spend half my time teaching at Dartmouth, half farming and half writing. That this adds up to three halves I am all too aware." Perrin, who suffered from Shy–Drager syndrome, died at his farmhouse on November 21, 2004.
- A Passport Secretly Green (1961)
- Dr. Bowdler's Legacy: A History of Expurgated Books in England and America (1969)
- Vermont in All Weathers (1971)
- Amateur Sugar Maker (1972)
- First Person Rural: Essays of a Sometime Farmer (1978)
- Giving up the Gun: Japan's Reversion to the Sword, 1543–1879 (1979)
- Second Person Rural: More Essays of a Sometime Farmer (1980)
- Third Person Rural: Further Essays of a Sometime Farmer (1983)
- Forever Virgin: The American View of America (1986, in Antaeus)
- A Reader's Delight (1988)
- Last Person Rural (1991)
- Solo: Life with an Electric Car (1992)
- A Child's Delight (1997)
- Best Person Rural: Essays of a Sometime Farmer (2006), edited by Terry S. Osborne
- "Noel Perrin, 1927–2004". Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs. November 23, 2004. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- Matt Schudel (November 26, 2004). "Noel Perrin, Dartmouth Professor And Rural Essayist, Dies at 77". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- Christopher Hawtree (December 13, 2004). "Obituary: Noel Perrin". The Independent. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- "Noel Perrin, at 77; teacher, writer of essays on rural life". Associated Press. November 23, 2004. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- "Noel Perrin, the Tokugawa Shogunate, and Land Mines". December 10, 2006.
- Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (December 24, 1992). "Books of The Times; Coast to Coast in an Ecologist's Dream With Wheels". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- "Amateur Sugar Maker by Perrin, Noel". www.biblio.com. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- "Perrin's "Forever Virgin: The American View of America"". MegaEssays.com. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- "A Child's Delight by Noel Perrin". www.upne.com. Retrieved 2007-10-15.