John Paulson, the founder of hedge fund giant Paulson & Co., earned a record $4.9 billion in 2010 overseeing a fund that exited the year with more than $36 billion under management, according to a new survey from AR Magazine.

But Paulson, who now has 90% of his personal money invested in either his firm's gold fund or other gold funds which generated a 35% return last year, has earned more than $12.9 billion in the past three years. The $4.9 billion is a record one-year take, eclipsing the previous record of $3.7 billion in earning he garnered in 2007 after predicting and betting on the U.S. housing market collapse.

Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates checked in second with $3.1 billion in earnings following by Jim Simons of Renaissance Technologies ($2.5 billion), David Tepper of Appaloosa Management at $2.2 billion, Steven Cohen of SAC Capital Advisors ($1.3 billion) and Eddie Lampert of ESL Investments at $1.1 billion.

Hedge funds as a group have enjoyed strong growth in both their numbers and their investment pools thanks largely to greater participation by institutional investors.

Last week, a report from Boston-based financial services research and consulting firm Aite Group found that global hedge fund assets rose to more than $1.92 trillion worldwide at the close of 2010, bringing the industry within a whisker of its all-time peak of $1.93 trillion in 2008.

The top 25 hedge fund managers made a combined $22 billion in 2010, their third-best year since the list's inception in 2001.

To make the list" target="_blank">list, a manager had to pocket at least $210 million last year, down from the cutoff of $350 million in 2009.

"In 2001, the combined income of the top hedge fund managers was less than $5 billion -- about what Paulson alone made in 2010," Michelle Celarier, editor of AR, said in the report.

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