Guns, Germs, and Steel, a provocative three-part miniseries based on Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer-winning book of the same name, sets out to answer a huge question: How did the world ever become so unequal?

Diamond is not interested in the great-man theory of history. His speculations are very fair to the third world, attributing the success of European civilization to sheer geographical luck rather than superior intelligence. Europeans, he claims, were able to develop technology that allowed them to dominate the rest of the world because their forebears and neighbors in the Middle East had the best land and animals for farming, freeing up energy for other things—like creating written languages and sophisticated weapons.

This sharp National Geographic program cleverly positions Diamond as a dashing action figure rather than a drab academic. We see him slicing through jungles, pulling the trigger on a 16th-century gun, and gazing on the destruction wrought by malaria germs in the children’s ward of a Zambian hospital. These visuals lend his speculation an air of concreteness, and the title is even turned into a catchphrase (one that wears out its welcome with constant repetition). Guns, Germs, and Steel may not convince viewers that human agency plays such a negligible part in history, but it will likely make you question your global perspective—a pretty impressive achievement for a three-hour special.