"There are not many carefully delineated judgments in the book. But that is more a comment than the criticism it might be, for Mr. Karnow does not claim to have reached a sweeping verdict on the war," Douglas Pike, a former U.S. government official in Vietnam who became a leading authority on the war, wrote for The New York Times in a 1983 review.
"Because he has a sharp eye for the illustrative moment and a keen ear for the telling quote, his book is first-rate as a popular contribution to understanding the war. And that is what he meant it to be."
The PBS series won six Emmys, a Peabody and a Polk and was the highest-rated documentary at the time for public television, with an average of 9.7 million viewers per episode. Along with much praise came criticism from the left and right. The liberal weekly The Nation faulted Karnow for "little analysis and much waffling." Conservatives were so angered by the documentary that PBS agreed to let the right-wing Accuracy in Media air a rebuttal, "Television's Vietnam: The Real Story," which in turn was criticized as a show of weakness by PBS.
Karnow completed no books after "Paris in the Fifties." He attempted a study of Asians in the U.S., which he abandoned; a history of Jewish humor that never advanced beyond an outline; and a second memoir, with such working titles as "Interesting Times" and "Out of Asia." He also cared for his ailing wife, Annette, who died of cancer in 2009. A previous marriage, to Claude Sarraute (daughter of French novelist Nathalie Sarraute), ended in divorce in 1955. Karnow had three children.
He was often called on for speeches, panel discussions and television appearances and asked for his opinions on current affairs. One query came in 2009, through his old friend Richard Holbrooke, at the time the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan. Holbrooke wanted advice on U.S. policy in Afghanistan and put Karnow on the phone with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander. Karnow and the general discussed similarities between the wars in Afghanistan and Vietnam.
"What did we learn from Vietnam?" Karnow later told the AP. "We learned that we shouldn't have been there in the first place."