The History Channel has selected a sweeping cross section of events to cover in 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America, a compelling series in which talented documentary filmmakers — including the likes of R.J. Cutler (The War Room) and Bruce Sinofsky (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) — each take on a world-shaking moment in American history. From the first English massacre of Native Americans in 1637 through the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964, the series covers cultural, political, and social moments that transformed the U.S. Even events you think you know all about — like the 1925 Scopes ”monkey trial” — benefit from a revisit. (Who remembers that the sensation was triggered by the tiny Tennessee town of Dayton and its business leaders’ desire for a barn-burning trial that would lure crowds and create an economic boom?) Thankfully, the channel’s most endearingly nerdy traits are still present: Nervous academics pop up to offer insight, and local-theater types reenact scenes (except in Cutler’s take on Shay’s Rebellion, which he effectively chose to have recounted manga-style). Likable actors provide the narration: Martin Sheen handles the 1892 Homestead Strike, while Campbell Scott discusses Einstein’s later-regretted A-bomb urgings to Roosevelt. The most interesting segment comes from director Joe Berlinger (Sinofsky’s partner on Metallica and Paradise Lost), who takes on President McKinley’s assassination, weaving in footage and discussions of the 1901 World’s Fair (and the racism it embodied), as well as engaging portraits of McKinley and his milk-swilling anarchist killer. It’s a swift, gripping overview of the time period that makes you crave more.