Russia’s announcement that it had the bomb signaled the end of the era of the United States having what the secretary of war had called the royal straight flush. Predictably, the question of how to respond ran the gamut; even sober, humanitarian-minded scientists tried to figure out if the balance of rational thought had swung toward the idea of striking the Soviets preemptively. — Dan Carlin, The End Is Always Near

In this context, what does the phrase “ran the gamut” mean? I’ve found that to run the gamut from something to something can usually be paraphrased as to range from something to something. But I’m not sure if it’s proper to apply that usage to this case.

  • I would say that "Predictably, the question of how to respond ran the gamut;" is a little strange. It is hard to see how "The question" can run the gamut. I would say "Predictably, the suggestions on how to respond ran the gamut;"
    – Greybeard
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 15:06
  • 1
    Jake, Please provide a citation for the quote. It really helps to know who the author is. And we are picky about giving proper credit here.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Mar 7, 2020 at 2:11

1 Answer 1


The meaning of "ran the gamut" nearly equals your paraphrased meaning. It is usually considered a complete range. In this context, all the possible responses were considered, with striking the Soviets preemptively as an extreme option that wouldn't have been considered in other contexts.


  • Of course it was considered in other contexts. There was no precedent in all of human history for developing a weapon and not using it. There were huge arguments about designing nuclear weapons to have a ten year shelf life. It was considered utterly pointless by many. The history of nuclear weapons policy has endured a truly extraordinary effort in revisionist history. "Restraint? Why are you so concerned with saving their lives? The whole idea is to kill the bastards. At the end of the war if there are two Americans and one Russian left alive, we win!" - Thomas S Power, Commander of SAC.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Mar 7, 2020 at 2:35

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