There are a number of books out there that I've heard give a good overview of the Catholic faith; Catholicism for Dummies
(In spite of the odd name), Cardinal Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity
, various history books on the Catholic Church (Often they include general overviews of intellectual themes and such for various ages), etc. While these books are reported to be good, I can't say personally since I haven't read any. I am a huge promoter of reading the primary texts themselves but sometimes that's just not feasible.
I think you would have to read a plethora of smaller books to get the same "education" you would get from reading the Catechism. You could try reading the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is much shorter than the Catechism and written in question and answer format. It would likely be very helpful in learning Catholic doctrine for a beginner.
Sorry I can't come up with more specific titles, I'm at a total loss at the moment. If I remember any more I'll be certain to recommend them.
P.S. I've seen zyphane
around and can essentially back up anything he may recommend. I'd also like to read The Catholic Passion
myself, though I've only read very little about it so far.