If you're new to Perl, you should start with perlintro, which is a general intro for beginners and provides some background to help you navigate the rest of Perl's extensive documentation.
For ease of access, the Perl manual has been split up into several sections.
Full perl(1) documentation: perl
Perl is a language optimized for scanning arbitrary text files, extracting information from those text files, and printing reports based on that information. It's also a good language for many system management tasks. The language is intended to be practical (easy to use, efficient, complete) rather than beautiful (tiny, elegant, minimal).
Perl combines (in the author's opinion, anyway) some of the best features of C, sed, awk, and sh, so people familiar with those languages should have little difficulty with it. (Language historians will also note some vestiges of csh, Pascal, and even BASIC-PLUS.) Expression syntax corresponds closely to C expression syntax. Unlike most Unix utilities, Perl does not arbitrarily limit the size of your data--if you've got the memory, Perl can slurp in your whole file as a single string. Recursion is of unlimited depth. And the tables used by hashes (sometimes called "associative arrays") grow as necessary to prevent degraded performance. Perl can use sophisticated pattern matching techniques to scan large amounts of data quickly. Although optimized for scanning text, Perl can also deal with binary data, and can make dbm files look like hashes. Setuid Perl scripts are safer than C programs through a dataflow tracing mechanism that prevents many stupid security holes.
If you have a problem that would ordinarily use sed or awk or sh, but it exceeds their capabilities or must run a little faster, and you don't want to write the silly thing in C, then Perl may be for you. There are also translators to turn your sed and awk scripts into Perl scripts.
But wait, there's more...
Begun in 1993 (see perlhist), Perl version 5 is nearly a complete rewrite that provides the following additional benefits:
modularity and reusability using innumerable modules
embeddable and extensible
roll-your-own magic variables (including multiple simultaneous DBM implementations)
subroutines can now be overridden, autoloaded, and prototyped
Described in perlsub.
arbitrarily nested data structures and anonymous functions
compilability into C code or Perl bytecode
support for light-weight processes (threads)
support for internationalization, localization, and Unicode
Described in perlsub.
regular expression enhancements
enhanced debugger and interactive Perl environment, with integrated editor support
POSIX 1003.1 compliant library
Described in POSIX.
Okay, that's definitely enough hype.