Silver was born in Wellington and attended Wellington College, later completing a B.A. at Victoria University of Wellington in psychology and sociology. He worked initially as a boilermaker's assistant on Groote Eylandt, Northern Territory, Australia. After travelling in Asia he spent time in London, where he taught English.
His best-known cartoon series was written for the New Zealand Listener - Bogor, which dealt with a lone woodsman and the forest animals that were his only companions (especially a hedgehog). An earlier cartoon, OB (written under the pseudonym "Roux"), had as its main characters a bird, a snake, and a rock, and was initially inspired by Silver's time spent in the Australian outback. Bogor originally appeared in the Listener in 1973, and was New Zealand's longest-running published cartoon series.
He is also known for his humorous cat art books (created in collaboration with painter and photographer, Heather Busch): Why Cats Paint, Why Paint Cats, and Dancing with Cats, as well as his spoofs Kokigami: The Intimate Art of the Little Paper Costume (Japanese paper decoration for the genitals also in collaboration with Heather Busch), and the self-explanatory The Naughty Victorian Hand Book: The Rediscovered Art of Erotic Hand Manipulation (with illustrator Jeremy Bennett). Other books include What Bird Did That? A Driver's Guide to Some Common Birds of North America (co-authored with Peter Hansard), The Kama Sutra for Cats (illustrated by Margaret Woodhouse) and "Versability", a poetry game similar to Dictionary, where players create new lines for poems rather than new meanings for words (co-authored by his wife Melissa da Souza). His most successful book to date is Why Cats Paint which has sold over 700,000 copies worldwide. He has over one million books in print.
One of his inventions is the sport of GolfCross, played on a golf course with aerial goal-nets and a golf ball in the shape of a rugby ball. There are Golfcross courses in France, Germany, Argentina, Scotland, England, Ireland, and New Zealand.
Silver's latest project (co-authored with Martin O'Connor) is a relationship book titled Everything He Hasn't Told You Yet: A New Way to Get Men talking About Stuff That Matters. The book uses the Scenario Method which works by putting a man at the centre of hypothetical situations thus allowing him to share what he really thinks and feels. Everything He Hasn't Told You Yet was released in the United States in October 2007. The book received a starred review in the Library Journal (US).
Silver has also developed "The Fringe Games" which is an international festival of new and experimental sports designed to run in conjunction with the Olympic Games.
- Burton Silver's page at publisher Ten Speed Press
- A gallery of all the covers of the Bogor collections
- A gallery of phonecards released by Telecom New Zealand featuring Bogor's hedgehog
- Museum of Non Primate Art
- New Zealand GolfCross
- Review, Why Paint Cats?
- Fringe Games
- Burton Silver at the Internet Movie Database
- Burton Silver, Writer, Inventor at NZ On Screen