“Mismatch” is a story of good intentions gone terribly awry. Sander and Taylor document beyond disagreement how university admissions offices’ racial quotas and preferences systematically put black and Hispanic students in schools where they are far less well-prepared than others.

As a result, they tend to get low grades, withdraw from science and math courses and drop out without graduating. The effect is particularly notable in law schools, where large numbers of blacks and Hispanics either drop out or fail to pass the bar exam.

This happens, Sander and Taylor argue, not because these students lack ability but because they’ve been thrown in with students of exceptional ability — the mismatch of the authors’ title. At schools where everyone has similar levels of test scores and preparation, these students do much better. And they don’t suffer the heartache of failure.