Call it the changing of the guard. In 2011, a year when a majority of hedge fund managers lost money, 15 of the 25 managers who top AR's annual ranking of the biggest earners failed to make the previous year’s list. In fact, eight individuals are making their debut on the 11-year-old ranking, which first appeared in the pages of Institutional Investor.

Sure, the top five earners are well-known names to readers familiar with the Rich List: Bridgewater Associates' Ray Dalio ($3.9 billion), Icahn Capital Management’s Carl Icahn ($2.5 billion), Renaissance Capital’s James Simons ($2.1 billion), Citadel’s Kenneth Griffin ($700 million) and SAC Capital’s Steven Cohen ($585 million).

Yet all but five of the rest of the top earners are making their debut or reappearing after a one- or two-year absence. Managers such as Centaurus Energy’s John Arnold, Bridgewater’s Greg Jensen and Robert Prince, Tiger Global’s Chase Coleman, Viking Capital’s O. Andreas Halvorsen and ValueAct’s Jeff Ubben — whose strategies are all very different — figure to become the next fixtures in the top 25 ranking as their respective firms continue to grow in size.

At the same time, a number of hedge fund managers who have historically dominated the list have retired, including Soros Fund Management’s George Soros, his one-time sidekick Stanley Druckenmiller of Duquesne Capital, Caxton Associates' Bruce Kovner and Highbridge Capital Management’s Henry Swieca.

By providing a rare peek at the wealth earned by the individuals who operate within this secretive universe, the list documents the level of success they have achieved.

While the 25 highest earners made a combined $14.4 billion last year, the lowest sum in three years, they earned more than $136 billion from 2001 through 2011, an average of nearly $500 million per person per year, which includes their share of the fees as well as gains on their considerable amount of capital in the funds (not counting losing years).

As a result, hedge fund managers have become modern day Rockefellers, Carnegies and Vanderbilts. And like their predecessors, they have had a major influence on society in everything from real estate to charities. Not only have they helped drive up the value of luxury Manhattan apartments, Fairfield, Connecticut homes, Hampton summer houses, many kinds of art and even major league sports franchises, they have also donated hundreds of millions of dollars to build wings of hospitals and museums and to fund college programs, buildings and sports arenas. They have shelled out billions of dollars to help the poor and medically unfortunate, including those suffering from Parkinson’s disease and autism. Hedge funds have also quietly funded scores of lesser-known charities.