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Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World WarII

38 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1594201738
ISBN-10: 1594201730
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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Segregation is the context for Koerner’s biography of Herman Perry, and the Burma theater of World War II is the stage. Shipped to Asia with thousands of black American draftees to build the Ledo Road, Perry generated considerable documentation in his short life, and Koerner fully capitalizes on it. Producing a riveting personal drama, Koerner glimpses Perry’s essentially ebullient personality forming in the Jim Crow world but rebelling against its army version on the other side of the world. Not glossing over Perry’s transgressions of military discipline, one of which was a capital offense at the tragic heart of the narrative, Koerner solidly anchors them in their emotionally stressful context of miserable road construction in a pestilent jungle amid contemptuous treatment from some white officers. There were two extraordinary consequences of Perry’s central misdeed: his court-martial, whose procedures Koerner critiques, and beforehand, Perry’s escape and year-long survival in the Burmese wilds as an adoptive member of the Naga people. With arresting pacing and empathy for its participants, Koerner’s skillful rendering of the Perry saga exerts certain appeal for the WWII audience. --Gilbert Taylor


" Koerner's gripping account of a little-known manhunt details the brutality of jungle life while also illuminating larger issues of race and prejudice during the war."
- Entertainment Weekly

" Remarkable . . . Koerner has done a great deal of digging into obscure corners of dusty records and has managed to reconstruct a tale well worth telling."
-Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book Review

" A fascinating, untold story of the Second World War, an incendiary social document, and a thrilling, campfire tale adventure."
-George Pelacanos --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (May 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201730
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201738
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,390,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and the author of The Skies Belong to Us and Now the Hell Will Start, the latter of which he is currently adapting for filmmaker Spike Lee. A former columnist for both The New York Times and Slate who was named one of Columbia Journalism Review's "Ten Young Writers on the Rise," he has also written for Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, ESPN the Magazine, and many other publications. Visit him at and follow him at @brendankoerner.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Gary Brumley on July 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I first heard of this book when I read a small blurb about it in Newsweek. Being an armchair World War II historian, I have read many books about the war, but knew very little beyond the basics of the war in the China/India/Burma theater. I was interested to know more. However, the main reason I read this book is because I love a good adventure story, especially a true one. Truth is almost always stranger than fiction, and this book illustrates that perfectly.

The author paints a colorful portrait of Perry, his mind-set, and the colliding factors of war, poverty, crime, and racial discrimination that land Perry in the worst situation possible. Though Perry suffered more than most people could imagine and perhaps was justified in his crime, the author does not paint Perry as a saint. Perry had big problems and made some wrong decisions. The reader is left to wonder how he would react in the same situation.

The other character in this book is the jungle itself. The jungle is so real, so tangible, so deadly that it becomes almost a sentient being. The jungle is unstoppable in its ability to grind machines and equipment to rust and rubble and suck the life out of the men who came to work there. It shows no mercy and exists without pity. Contending with the Japanese was preferrable than contending with the jungle. The author treats the jungle not just as the setting of the story, but as one of the cast.

Make no mistake; this book is the story of a tragedy. Nobody wins, except the jungle.

There were some elements of writing style which bothered me a bit. At times, some of the language seems like it has a bit too much pop culture infused into it. The book doesn't suffer much from it, but it is something that I noticed at times.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Among the many strange and sad tales of World War II, one of the most peculiar ones is that of Private Herman Perry, who died in the jungles of Burma, one of the Americans sent there for the expensive and doomed Ledo Road that was to link India and China. Perhaps his story has been forgotten because of the futility of that particular expedition; perhaps it was because Perry was executed as a murderer; perhaps it is because his story is part of the shameful Jim Crow attitude of the Army, and of the nation, at that time. Whatever the reason, there are many important aspects of history surrounding Perry's story, and Brendan I. Koerner has done an admirable job covering a previously untold story in _Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II_ (Penguin Press). Although Koerner has written most extensively on technology, he was researching military executions when he came across Perry's story, and became obsessed with telling it. He has produced an insightful book of history, in addition to telling Perry's sad and forgotten tale.

Perry was drafted after Pearl Harbor, but there was a delay in his entry because the Army didn't have enough segregated facilities to train black enlistees. He was one of the fifteen thousand American troops assigned to Burma to build the Ledo Road, whose ostensible purpose was to keep supplies flowing into America's Chinese Allies. Perry and the other soldiers worked sixteen hours a day. They got rations of corned beef and rice, and water with bacteria in it. Most of them got malaria. They fought off leeches and lice. Some were mauled by tigers. Perry's carefree disposition would not last in such an environment. He shot and killed a Lt.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Rick Shaq Goldstein on June 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This story of the life and death of Herman Perry plays out mainly on the stage of World War II. The author recounts Perry's life from the cotton fields of North Carolina to Washington D.C. to the searing hot, disease infected jungles of South Asia. Perry a drug-addled African American soldier, shoots and kills an unarmed white United States Lieutenant named Harold Cady, and flees into the untamed jungles that are inhabited by tigers, head-hunters, leeches, and armies of malaria carrying mosquitoes among other things. Perry becomes the object of the greatest manhunt of World War II.

The reader is told of this murderous crime on the first and second page of the book, so you are not kept in suspense very long as to the felonious offense the protagonist commits. From there the author spends the next one-hundred-forty-one laborious pages getting you to the point in time portrayed on the first two pages. That is not to say those pages don't have many historically interesting facts imbedded in them, they do... but the seemingly endless trip from New York to Asia via troop ship and railroad, seems like they'll never end. With endless detail of the close quarters, dank circumstance, and very little daylight, makes the reader get seasick and claustrophobic.

One point is made powerfully clear, and that is the hate and prejudice in the world during World War II. Of course it goes unsaid that there is still too much in today's world, but sometimes we need a reminder that racial, religious, and ethnic hatred is not solely indigenous to America.
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