Could someone suggest me how to learn some basic theory of schemes? I have two books from algebraic geometry, namely "Diophantine Geometry" from Hindry and Silverman and "Algebraic geometry and arithmetic curves" from Qing Liu. I have had difficulties to prove the equivalence of many definitions. For example Hindry and Silverman defines an affine variety to be an irreducible algebraic subset of $\mathbb{A}^n$ with respect to Zariski topology. On the other hand, Liu defines an affine variety to be the affine scheme associated to a finitely generated algebra over a field.

1The three current answers are exactly what I would recommend, Ueno for a introduction, Vakil for the details and exercises, E&H for intuition. – BBischof Jan 01 '11 at 22:21

6IMHO, the typical very talented math student should still expect to need a long time to learn algebraic geometry, probably much longer than she might expect from past experience (I certainly did, and if I remember right, David Eisenbud himself described as much during his outgoing address to the AMS). If you accept this from the start, then I would recommend learning the "classic" approach through varieties in detail before studying schemes. Shafaravich's Basic AG I is excellent in this regard. (and then read v. 2 for a good intro to schemes!) Otherwise, I agree with the others. – Barry Smith Jan 01 '11 at 23:36

As for motivation for schemes, this is a good read after you acquired some knowledge of schemes. Grothendieck, Alexander The cohomology theory of abstract algebraic varieties. 1960 Proc. Internat. Congress Math. (Edinburgh, 1958) pp. 103–118 Cambridge Univ. Press, New York – Makoto Kato Jul 19 '12 at 02:38

http://www.math.uiuc.edu/Macaulay2/Book/ComputationsBook/chapters/schemes/chapterwrapper.pdf – isomorphismes May 21 '15 at 22:45

Possibly related: https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/1987820, https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/422419, https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/linked/1748?lq=1 – Watson Feb 20 '18 at 22:01
3 Answers
I have found Kenji Ueno's book Algebraic Geometry 1: From Algebraic Varieties to Schemes to be quite satisfying in introducing the basic theory of schemes. Well, to be fair, this is only the first in a series of three books on the subject by the same author. So this first volume basically just develops the definitions of an affine scheme first and then of a scheme in general by "pasting" together affine schemes. It does not go into cohomology and more advanced stuff, which is the subject of the other two books.
However, what I really like is that he motivates very carefully the passage from the definition of an affine algebraic variety as an irreducible algebraic set in an affine space $\mathbb{A}_{k}^{n}$ to the definition of an affine variety using schemes, which is where you are having some trouble. What he does is that he starts by doing some algebraic geometry in the classic sense, that is, over an algebraically closed field $k$, in the first chapter of the book.
Then the author proves that there is a correspondence between the points in an algebraic set $V$ and the maximal ideals of its associated coordinate ring $k[V]$, where a point $(a_1, \dots , a_n) \in V$ corresponds to the maximal ideal of $k[V]$ determined by the ideal $(x_1  a_1 , \dots , x_n  a_n) \in k[x_1, \dots, x_n]$, that is, a correspondence between the points in $V$ and the "points" in the maximal spectrum $\text{maxSpec}(k[V])$ of the coordinate ring $k[V \, ]$.
Then Ueno goes on to define an affine algebraic variety as a pair $(V, k[V \, ] )$ where $V$ is an an algebraic set. But he then makes the argument that one can go a little bit further and consider the pair $( \text{maxSpec}(R), R )$ where $R$ is a $k$ algebra. But here Ueno arguments that if the original intention was to study the sets of solutions of polynomial equations, then where is the geometry and where are the equations hidden if an algebraic variety is defined as this pair $( \text{maxSpec}(R), R )$?
The interesting thing is that if the $k$ algebra $R$ is finitely generated over $k$ then
$$ R \simeq \frac{ k[x_1 , \dots , x_n] }{I}$$
so that as a consequence
$$ \text{maxSpec}(R) = V(I)$$
so that again you'll have some equations (this is all done and explained in detail in the book). So then the author (re)defines an algebraic variety over an algebraically closed field $k$ (remember that he is doing everything in the classic sense) as a pair $( \text{maxSpec}(R), R )$, where $R$ is a finitely generated $k$ algebra.
And then at the end of the first chapter the author motivates the need for a more general theory, for example having in mind the needs of number theory, because since everything was done in the context of an algebraically closed field, then the arguments don't work for the fields (and rings) of interest in number theory. In particular, it is noted how an extension of the definitions to include these cases would need to take into account not only the set of maximal ideals, but the set of all prime ideals.
Then chapter two develops first some properties of this set of prime ideals, or prime spectrum of a ring, making it into a topological space with the Zariski topology... and then defines the necessary things in order to be able to define an affine scheme and a scheme (I mean, the concepts of a sheaf of rings, a ringed space, etc).
It is not a short story of course, but again I prefer this type of approach at first, than having to deal with an unmotivated (and difficult) definition that strives for great generality but I have no idea of where it comes from and what is its purpose.
Note that the book that Arturo recommended is great also but it assumes you already know some algebraic geometry and its level is higher than Ueno's book.
You should take a look at it and see if you like it, the book has a fair amount of examples and some exercises interspersed within the text also. You'll have to study from other sources as well but I believe that this book does a pretty good job at motivating the abstract definitions.
I hope this helps at least a little.
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I am also currently learning about sheaves and schemes, and I'm finding Ravi Vakil's notes to be very helpful: http://math216.wordpress.com/
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+1 for notes that are rapidly becoming the standard reference. I hope Vakil keeps revising them for one day publication. – Mathemagician1234 Jul 19 '12 at 04:54
I learned sheafs and schemes from Hartshorne (as did many people), but I found Why schemes? by David Eisenbud and Joe Harris an invaluable aid. The book was rewritten as The Geometry of Schemes and published in SpringerVerlag's yellow GTM series (here's the Amazon link).
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