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In 1990 hedge funds managed some $39 billion of assets and were almost unknown. By 2008 that figure had grown to almost $2 trillion and hedge funds were being blamed by some for contributing to the credit crunch and demonised by others for their greed.
The rise of the industry has created a new bunch of billionaires, who have made themselves rich by managing other people's money. Jim Simons, a mathematician who in a previous generation might have had to make do on an academic's salary, earned a remarkable $2.5 billion in 2008 alone; the top 10 managers that year were paid almost $10 billion between them, with the top three earning over $1 billion each.
Nowadays most people have heard the term 'hedge fund' but few are clear about what exactly a hedge fund is or what it does. This guide aims to put them in the picture with the clarity and lively prose that the Economist is famous for. It provides a succinct survey of the industry for all those who think they should know about hedge funds, but do not.